US drone strikes in Pakistan killed two leaders of al Qaeda's Indian branch earlier this year, a spokesman for the militants said Sunday, a major blow to the affiliate only months after its creation.
In an audio message, spokesman Usama Mahmood identified the dead as deputy chief Ahmed Farooq and Qari Imran, in charge of the group's Afghan affairs. Mahmood said a Jan. 5 drone strike in North Waziristan killed Imran, while a later drone strike killed Farooq. His claim corresponds with dates that previously reported suspected US drone attacks were carried out in Pakistan's tribal region near the Afghan border.
Mahmood said that Farooq's real name was Raja Suleman and that he graduated from Islamabad's International Islamic University. Mahmoud said Imran's real name was Hidayatullah and that he was from Pakistan's central city of Multan in Punjab province.
Mahmood also lashed out against Pakistan army over its operation in North Waziristan.
"This operation is being carried out under direct supervision of American forces, its leadership and with their direct help through drones and jets," Mahmood said. "Pakistan's army is in fact just providing intelligence against the targets America wants to hit."
Mahmoud said US drone strikes had killed some 50 members of his group. Pakistani officials had no immediate comment on the claims.
The CIA's drone strike program has killed al Qaeda leaders, Pakistani Taliban fighters and other militants hiding in its tribal regions even as it has evoked anger across Pakistan over allegations of widespread civilian casualties. Since 2004, the US has carried out some 400 suspected drone strikes in the country, according to the New America Foundation's International Security Program, which tracks the American campaign.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced creation of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent in September. The terror group increasingly finds itself overshadowed internationally by the Islamic State group, which holds a third of Iraq and Syria in its self-declared caliphate.