Gunmen on Wednesday attacked and seriously injured a longtime ally of Osama bin Laden whom U.S. authorities have linked to an alleged terrorist sleeper cell in California.
Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a signatory to Bin Laden’s 1998 declaration of war on the United States and its allies, was severely beaten by eight armed men, supporters said.
The assailants dragged Khalil and his driver from a mosque in Tarnol, about three miles northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, as they attended evening prayers, said his spokesman, Sultan Zia.
Khalil is a former leader of Harkat Mujahedin, a militant group linked to Al Qaeda that he founded as Harkat Ansar to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The U.S. labeled Khalil’s group a terrorist organization in 1997, but it has continued its anti-Western jihad, or holy war, under the new name, Jamiat ul Ansar.
Khalil’s attackers held him for five hours, tying a rope around his neck and beating him with rifle butts before dumping him in front of a mosque on Islamabad’s outskirts, his spokesman said. “He was left in a very serious condition with a severe head injury. However, he has survived with the grace of God,” Zia said. Khalil was taken to a hospital in Rawalpindi, adjacent to the capital.
In June, the FBI arrested Lodi, Calif., ice cream truck driver Umer Hayat, 48, and his son Hamid, 23, and charged them with training in one of Khalil’s camps in Pakistan for attacks in the U.S. The men are on trial in a Sacramento court. The prosecution rested its case Tuesday.
Khalil co-signed Bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa, or religious edict, that declared it “an individual duty” for Muslims to kill American civilians and troops, or their allies, anywhere they could be found in the world.
Bin Laden’s deputy, Egyptian physician Ayman Zawahiri, and two other Egyptian and Pakistani extremists also signed the declaration by the so-called World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders.
That same year, then-President Clinton ordered an attack with Tomahawk cruise missiles on targets in Afghanistan to kill Bin Laden after Al Qaeda attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa left at least 224 people dead. The strikes also targeted Khalil’s camps near the eastern Afghan town of Khowst.
Intelligence assessments concluded that the missile strikes missed Bin Laden by a few hours, but Khalil claimed several of his fighters were killed in the airstrikes.
In testimony before the 9/11 Commission in 2004, Clinton’s national security advisor, Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, said an undisclosed number of agents from the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency also died in the strikes on the camps. The powerful ISI was long associated with Khalil and other militant groups.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf banned Khalil’s militant group in 2001, after he ended support for the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan and joined the U.S.-led war on terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Pakistani authorities arrested Khalil in 2004 when he was accused of aiding militants crossing into Afghanistan to attack U.S.-led forces.
He was detained at least two more times but was released each time under what Pakistan’s government insisted was close supervision to ensure he didn’t engage in militant activities.
As late as 2004, Khalil continued to raise funds and rally militants to wage jihad against the U.S. in a magazine called Al Hilal, published from his headquarters, in a mosque next to a school and across from an army base in Rawalpindi.
A November 2003 edition of the magazine featured an advertisement on the back page, announcing the “All-Pakistan Training Convention of Jamiat ul Ansar Activists,” at Khalil’s headquarters.
Times special correspondent Zaidi reported from Islamabad and staff writer Watson from New Delhi.