By Zia Ur Rehman and Qasim Yousafzai

KARACHI – Al-Qaeda’s Waziristan-based interim chief, Saif Al Adal, masterminded the May 22-23 Mehran naval base attack in Karachi, while chief al-Qaeda strategist Ilyas Kashmiri – with support from elements of the Pakistani Taliban – put final touches on its operational planning, the News International reported May 25.

”]Analysts consider the Egyptian-born Al Adal al-Qaeda’s interim leader since the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad May 2.

Al Adal’s reputed second-in-command is Kashmiri, one of the highest-profile al-Qaeda leaders operating from North Waziristan. He has a Pakistani bounty of Rs 50m (US $5.8m) on his head, the News reported. Central Asia Online exclusively reported on his rise in terrorist ranks in November.

Kashmiri was labelled a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” August 6, and the UN added him and his Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) organisation to its blacklist under UNSC Resolution 1267.

However, the preliminary investigation report says that the banned outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) carried out the attack, Pakistan Today reported.

Terrorists armed with automatic weapons, rockets and explosives stormed the Mehran base late May 22, triggering gun battles that killed at least 11 Navy personnel and two Rangers and wounded 14 security officials.

Many militant groups, especially the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) and al-Qaeda, have vowed to avenge bin Laden’s death.

The TTP, through spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan, has claimed responsibility. “We warned after the killing of Osama bin Laden that we will carry out even bigger attacks,” he said.

Taliban militants also have targeted Pakistan navy personnel in Karachi in the recent past. Three bombings of Navy buses killed nine in Karachi April 26 and 27.

A special inquiry committee led by Rear Adm. Tehseenullah Khan will investigate the Mehran attack, navy spokesman Commodore Irfanul Haq said. The committee includes officials from different intelligence agencies of Pakistan, including the Federal Investigation Bureau, Pakistan Air Force, Rangers and police, Haq said.

Navy sacks base commander

Naval leaders have suspended Mehran Base Commander Commodore Raja Tahir and replaced him with Commodore Khalid Pervez, media reported.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani visited hospitals at PNS Shifa and PNS Rahat where injured sailors are receiving treatment. He ordered concerned authorities to revisit and upgrade security at all defence and security installations.

“There is a need to upgrade security, keeping in view the intentions of terrorists,” Gilani said. “Whatever possible action is required should be taken and the government will extend its full support.”

Al-Qaeda has long reach

The Mehran attack “has underscored the extended tentacles of al-Qaeda and its supporters from Waziristan to Karachi,” said Islamabad-based security analyst Imtiaz Gul. “Commando strikes at chosen targets indicate that al-Qaeda or its local allied forces – such as Jaish-e-Mohammad, HuJI, and Jundullah – enjoy a strong support base in Karachi,” he said.

The capture of senior al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Ali Qasim Yakub, alias Abu Shoaib al Makki, May 17, also demonstrates al-Qaeda’s strong presence in Karachi, Gul wrote in the Express Tribune.