The new Bin Laden: Ilyas Kashmiri

Evil geniuses are a rare breed, even in the ranks of Al Qaeda. Those few who planned the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen 10 years ago and the atrocities in America on September 11, 2001, were killed or captured by the spring of 2003, and Osama bin Laden has been hard pressed ever since to recruit anyone able to take their place. But now, at last, he seems to have found his man, and that’s a major reason intelligence services from Washington to Paris to Islamabad have been acting so jittery of late.

Ilyas Kashmiri, 46, has the experience, the connections, and a determination to attack the West—including the United States—that make him the most dangerous Qaeda operative to emerge in years. “This guy ties everybody together,” says a veteran U.S. intelligence officer who has been watching Kashmiri’s rise to prominence closely but is not authorized to speak publicly. Kashmiri fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the Indians in Kashmir and in India itself. He also worked with the Pakistani intelligence service, but turned on Islamabad with a vengeance in 2003, trying to murder then-president Pervez Musharraf. Since then Kashmiri has been linked to planned attacks in Denmark, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, most probably Chicago…

Kashmiri is so active organizing and carrying out guerrilla-style attacks that the jihadis have taken to calling him “the commando commander,” says Hanif. The key to such operations is preparation, and Kashmiri is an acknowledged master. “Kashmiri is the most experienced person in planning, choosing targets, and getting men ready,” says one Pakistani intelligence officer. His reputation for murder and mayhem in the subcontinent goes back years, but—this is what has set off alarm bells in Europe—his current project is to nurture jihadis from the West. “He took care of the special training of chosen newcomers, especially Westerners,” says Hanif. A European intelligence officer tells NEWSWEEK, “Kashmiri is the most important guy linking Al Qaeda with Western recruits.”…

Siddiqui, who trained under Kashmiri before he was arrested in Afghanistan this past summer, reportedly has told interrogators that at a “campfire chat” in North Waziristan earlier this year Kashmiri told him that he had already dispatched advance teams to Britain and Germany. Siddiqui’s confessions led to a spate of Predator attacks in the tribal area in September and October, most of them aimed at hitting the “white jihadis” and cells believed to be involved in the planned European attacks. At least four Germans were killed in one Predator strike