Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, or JuA, a faction of the banned Pakistan Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP) terror group, confirmed the death on Friday of its chief, Umar Khalid Khorasani.
Khorasani has been blamed for directing several deadly attacks carried out in different parts of Pakistan in recent years, including the devastating March 2016 attack on the Christian community in Lahore on the day before Easter that claimed the lives of 75 people.
“Chief of our Jamaat-ul-Ahraar, Umar Khalid Khorasani, who sustained serious injuries in a recent U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan’s Paktia province, succumbed to his injuries Wednesday evening,” Jamaat-ul-Ahraar’s spokesperson told the French news agency.
The spokesperson also confirmed that nine of Khorasani’s close acquaintances were killed in the same attack.
TTP earlier had also confirmed the killing of its top commander, Umar Mansoor, in a statement to Pakistani media.
According to local media reports, two drone strikes carried out by the U.S. in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan have reportedly killed about 31 militants, including Mansoor and Khorasani.
U.S. officials did not comment on the statements issued by JuA or TTP regarding the death of their leaders.
Some Pakistani analysts see the recent high-profile elimination of terror leaders in Pakistan as a sign of improving relations and cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan.
“This new development shows that both Pakistan and American intelligence agencies are cooperating and the trust is building between the security and establishment of both sides, which is truly necessary if we have to win the war against terrorism in the region,” Retired Pakistan Army General Talat Masood told VOA.
“The drone attacks by the U.S. forces show its seriousness to target those militants who are carrying out fatal attacks in Pakistan from the Afghan soil,” Masood added.
Masood said he believes that the death of both Khurasani and Mansoor will help U.S. and Pakistan improve their bilateral relations, which plummeted due to Pakistan's alleged ties to or tolerance of terror groups operating on its soil who have waged attacks against U.S.-led NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan has denied those claims.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to visit Pakistan in the coming days, where he will meet with Pakistani high officials and discuss bilateral issues, including regional security.
The relations between both countries have been rocky in recent years and have become further strained after U.S. President Donald Trump, during his South Asia strategy announcement in August, put Pakistan on notice to take action against militant safe havens that pose a threat to regional security.
Who was Khorasani?
Umar Khalid Khorasani was reportedly in his 40s and hailed from the tribal region of Pakistan. He was a hard-core militant who started out as an anti-India jihadist and fought to liberate the Indian part of Kashmir.
He later joined Pakistan Tehreek-i-Taliban in 2007, but parted ways with the group after disagreements with TTP’s leadership.
Khorasani then founded the Jamaat-ul-Ahraar in 2014 and announced allegiance to the Islamic State in Afghanistan.
In 2015, JuA left the Islamic State group and reunited with the Pakistani Taliban.
JuA first came into prominence after it claimed responsibility for a terror attack on Pakistani security forces in Lahore's Wagah border region with India in 2014 during a border parade. The attack killed 60 people, mostly civilians.
The Pakistani government banned JuA in November of 2016.
The United States has also placed JuA on a list of specially designated global terrorist organizations.
Pakistan has repeatedly alleged that JuA has planned and carried out attacks on Pakistani security personnel and civilians, using sanctuaries inside Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.
Kabul, however, rejects the allegations and blames Islamabad for harboring militant groups on its soil, including the Haqqani network, to launch attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies those allegations.
VOA's Urdu service contributed to this report.