ISLAMABAD — A top financier of the notorious Haqqani Network, a key Afghan terrorist group, was killed late Sunday in a drive-by shooting on the outskirts of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, four years after he was detained by Pakistani authorities here for violating United Nations and U.S. Treasury Department sanctions.
Nasiruddin Haqqani apparently had been released from custody by the Pakistani authorities and was shot dead by motorcycle-borne gunmen while returning to his home in the Bhara Kahu township of Islamabad from evening prayers at a local mosque.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the assassination, but Pakistani security officials and Afghan militants transiting the southern Pakistani city of Karachi said they suspected the murder had been ordered by Mullah Fazlullah, who was appointed Friday to be the new head of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, commonly known as the TTP or the Pakistani Taliban. He succeeded Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed Nov. 1 in a U.S. drone strike in the northwest Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan.
If that turns out to be the case, it would help cement analysts’ views that the death of Mehsud and the ascendency of Fazlullah to the top spot in the Pakistani Taliban eventually will lead to a split between the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqanis, whose alliance has been showing strains for months, particularly since September when Fazlullah ordered the assassination of the army’s regional commander in the Bajaur tribal area in northern Pakistan.
The killing of Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Niazi, the highest ranking officer killed since the TTP launched its insurgency in 2007, infuriated the Pakistani military, which long has had a close relationship with the Haqqani Network.
Shortly after, Afghan Taliban-allied forces launched an attack Fazlullah’s base in eastern Afghanistan in what militant commanders privately described at the time as a “punitive action taken to put Fazlullah in his place.”
The hit on Nasiruddin Haqqani could have been Fazlullah’s retaliation for the attack on his base, said a Taliban commander from the Afghan province of Ghazni.
Haqqani’s death also could hurt the Haqqani Network’s ability to finance its operations in Afghanistan. Nasiruddin Haqqani was particularly effective as a fundraiser because of his connections to the ruling families of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. His well-born Arab mother is believed to live in Sharjah, one of the United Arab Emirates that is known for its close ties with the Saudi government.
Haqqani, who operated under the nom de guerre Dr. Khan, also may have doubled as the spokesman of the Afghan Taliban, known by the pseudonym Zabihullah Mujahid, according to the Taliban commanders currently in Karachi. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to talk on behalf of the Taliban, and they did not want to alert Pakistani security agencies to their presence.
The Taliban spokesman’s pseudonym is likely to have been shared by several Taliban operatives, Western security analysts have said previously.
At age 41, Nasiruddin was the eldest of nine known sons, from two wives, of the Haqqani Network’s ailing founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani. The group is led in all but name by Sirajuddin Haqqani, 31, Nasir’s half-brother. Two other half-brothers, Mohammed Omar and Mohammed, respectively died in a July 2010 drone strike in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area and in fighting with U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan’s Paktia province in February 2011.
There was no comment thus far from the Pakistan government, but operatives of two federal security agencies confirmed the killing and its circumstances, on the condition that they and their employers not be named.
Hussain is a McClatchy special correspondent.