(NEW YORK) — U.S. officials on Thursday said that an American drone strike likely took out a top commander of a powerful militant group the U.S. says is responsible for deadly, high-profile terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.
Badruddin Haqqani, described by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point as the “chief of operations” of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, had been reported killed last week in a drone strike. After those reports, however, a Taliban spokesperson denied Badruddin’s death, saying in an email to reporters that he was alive and well in Afghanistan.
On Thursday, two U.S. officials, including a senior American diplomat, told ABC News that the U.S. government believes Badruddin was among those killed in an Aug. 21 drone strike. Pakistani intelligence officials told ABC News they had heard from area locals the Haqqani commander had been killed.
“This is a significant loss from the Haqqani network as [Badruddin] was an operational leader behind a number of the group’s high-profile attacks, including the attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul,” an American official said, apparently referring to an assault on the embassy in September 2011.
Last May, Badruddin Haqqani was added to the U.S. State Department’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The U.S. government said he ran kidnapping operations for the Haqqani network and was the one responsible for holding New York Times reporter David Rohde hostage before the reporter made a dramatic escape in 2009. There is evidence Badruddin also personally directed the deadly attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul in 2011, according to the CTC.
Badruddin’s father, Nasiruddin, is the founder of the Pakistan-based Haqqani network and the U.S. government alleges Badruddin’s brother, Sirajuddin, maintains close ties with al Qaeda. Both have been designated terrorists and the State Department is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to Sirajuddin’s capture.
The State Department says the Haqqanis are at the “forefront of insurgent activity in Afghanistan” and a recent report by the CTC describes the Haqqani network as a ruthless and somewhat sophisticated terror organization.
“The Haqqanis employ violence and intimidation to extort legal firms and prominent community members, and engage in kidnap for ransom schemes,” the report says. “The Haqqanis also appear to operate their own front companies, many of which appear to be directed at laundering illicit proceeds… [T]he Haqqanis have evolved into an efficient, transnational jihadi industry, one which supports their war effort, and which is supported by it.”
“The broad range of business activities in which the Haqqanis engage suggest that the pursuit of wealth and power may be just as important to network leaders as the Islamist and nationalistic ideals for which the Haqqanis claim to fight,” it says.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
James Griffiths, CNN
Ralph Ellis, Ben Wedeman and Michael Pearson, CNN