Gunmen have shot dead the chief fundraiser of the Haqqani terror network on a street in Islamabad, the second death of a high-profile militant leader in Pakistan in just over a week.
Nasiruddin Haqqani was targeted by armed men on a motorcycle on Sunday night in a residential area of the capital called Bhara Kahu.
He had stopped to buy fresh bread at the local bakery, said witness Tanveer Ahmed, who was nearby but only learned the dead man’s identity later. The attack left blood stains on the pavement and bullet holes in the bakery’s tiled wall.
The Haqqani network is a key ally of the Afghan Taleban and has pledged allegiance to its leader, Mullah Omar, though it operates fairly independently.
Nasiruddin’s presence in Islamabad could raise questions in Washington. American officials have accused Pakistan’s intelligence agency of supporting the Haqqani network as a key proxy in the Afghan war – an allegation denied by Pakistan.
No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the killing, but there is likely to be suspicion in Pakistan that the Americans were behind it.
Nasiruddin’s death came nine days after the United States outraged Pakistani officials by killing Pakistani Taleban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a drone strike in North Waziristan, a day before the government in Islamabad planned to invite him to peace talks.
After the latest shooting, Nasiruddin’s body was taken to the town of Miran Shah in North Waziristan –the Haqqani network’s main sanctuary in Pakistan – where he was expected to be buried.
Nasiruddin was considered an important financier and emissary for the Haqqani network, which is led by his brother, Sirajuddin Haqqani. Their father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, founded the group and is well-known for fighting the Soviets after they invaded Afghanistan in 1979.
The US treasury department placed sanctions on Nasiruddin in 2010 when it added him to its list of designated global terrorists. The US treasury said Nasiruddin, who was known to speak Arabic, had travelled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to raise money for the Haqqani network, al-Qaeda and the Taleban.
The US has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan carry out an operation in North Waziristan to target the Haqqani network and other militants based there who have conducted cross-border attacks on Nato troops in Afghanistan. The group is blamed for some of the most high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, especially in the capital, Kabul.
Pakistan has refused to conduct an offensive. Islamabad says its troops are stretched too thin fighting domestic militants. But analysts widely believe Pakistan os reluctant to cross the Haqqani network, believing it will be a key ally in countering the influence of arch enemy India in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.
The US has instead used dozens of drone attacks to target Haqqani militants and their allies in North Waziristan, sparking tension with Islamabad. A drone strike killed one of Nasiruddin’s brothers, Badruddin Haqqani, in North Waziristan in August 2012.
Pakistani officials regularly criticise drone strikes in public as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, but the government has been known to support at least some of the attacks in the past, especially ones targeting enemies of the state rather than groups such as the Haqqani network.