PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A top Pakistani militant who had a $3 million US bounty on his head has been killed along with three others in Afghanistan, three senior leaders of his group told NBC News.
Abdul Wali, also known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, was killed in an explosion on Sunday while traveling by car in the southeastern province of Paktika, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the attack had not yet been publicly announced.
Khurasani was a senior leader of the Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, which seeks to overthrow the nuclear-armed government of Pakistan and replace it with a strict version of Islamic law. Though the Pakistani Taliban are a separate group, they are allied with the Taliban militants who seized back power in Afghanistan as the US withdrew one year ago.
Khurasani’s death could jeopardize peace talks he was participating in between the TTP and the Pakistani government, which are being facilitated by the Afghan Taliban.
The Pakistani Taliban sources did not say who they believed was responsible for the attack on Khurasani and his three aides.
“We received their bodies and started investigations to ascertain whether they died in an IED blast, drone strike or if they were shot dead,” a senior member of the group said, referring to improvised explosive devices.
After those investigations are completed, “we will issue a detailed statement whether to continue the peace talks with Pakistan or not.”
The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Reports of Khurasani’s death in Afghanistan come a week after the United States said it killed Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in an attack in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
Khurasani split from the TTP in 2014 to form his own militant faction, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which the United Nations and United States have designated a terrorist organization. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which later joined the TTP, is accused of killing hundreds of people in multiple attacks on Pakistani forces and religious minorities, particularly Christians and Shiite Muslims.
In March 2018, the State Department offered up to $3 million for information on Khurasani under its Rewards for Justice program. He was also wanted by the government of Pakistan, which has conducted massive military operations against the TTP that have pushed many of the militants across the border into Afghanistan.
The group, which was founded in 2007, has experienced a resurgence since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, and Pakistan accuses Afghanistan’s renewed rulers of supporting it.
The Pakistani Taliban sources said the group’s senior leaders had long been prohibited from traveling together in the same vehicle, and that it was not clear why Khurasani and his aides had done so.
They said Khurasani’s body was taken to Nangarhar province, where he was based, and laid to rest there on Monday.
“We could not attend the funeral due to fears of drone strikes, as the drones were flying over parts of Nangarhar and Kunar provinces,” a senior member of the group said.
Mushtaq Yusufzai reported from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Jennifer Jett reported from Hong Kong.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism