Learning about a Network of Operatives Supporting the Leadership of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP)

in Taliban, Pakistan, TTP, Terrorism

Executive Summary

In collaboration with the Diffeo AI-powered research assistant, we establish the sequence of leaders in the Tehrik-i-Taliban, a group that the U.S. State Department has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) 1, and find previously unreported associations with personal drivers and bodyguards of former leaders.


IN 2002, Pakistani military forces began to combat militants fleeing the Afghan war seeking refuge in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. For the first time in nearly half a century, militant forces entered these tribal areas in force.2 Fearing subjugation, various tribes formed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a now umbrella terrorist organization predominantly active in Northwest Pakistan. Their primary objective is to overthrow the Pakistani government and introduce one led by islamic law. 3 In February 2018, the deputy leader of the organization, Khalid Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike. 4 With that page open in our web browser, we invited Diffeo into the document and began an exploration.

Collaborating with the Diffeo Agent

Wanting to know more about the TTP, we start with our “seed” document, this February 2018 BBC article about the drone strike killing of Khalid Mehsud, the deputy leader of the organization 4, and invite the Diffeo agent to read the article with us.

anchor text Figure 1: Inviting in the Diffeo agent

Diffeo suggests paths for exploration by highlighting entities of possible interest in grey. We select a path to explore by clicking on a star that appears when hovering over highlight with our mouse.

anchor text Figure 2: The Diffeo agent creates a mentioned entity card

In the Diffeo sidebar, we see that the agent is tracking this path by displaying a Mentioned Entity Card (MEC). This card serves as an interface into the in-the-moment knowledge graph that Diffeo is building out dynamically for this project. The agent automatically formulates and runs search queries into a wide range of publicly available information on the surface Web, database-backed web sites in the deep Web, social media streams, and internal repositories to which your organization has granted access. As Diffeo uncovers connections to entities of interest, it recommends documents and related entities.

anchor text Figure 3: Clicking a MEC expands the card, showing relationships and knowledge recommended by Diffeo

As we continue to read the article about Mehsud’s death, we star other entities of interest, thus creating more MECs. The collaborative agent leaps ahead by generating more queries and recommendation, so we can keep reading. Diffeo handles the tedious processes of formulating rich queries, traversing all links, rolling up evidence for each connection, and prioritizing the most surprising connections.

anchor text Figure 4: Starring entities creates more MECs

Clicking the graph button on the top right opens the Diffeo Knowledge Board, so we can directly explore and prune this project’s dynamic knowledge graph. The knowledge board shows each document and concept that we have starred.

anchor text Figure 5: Our Diffeo-generated knowledge graph

The BBC article discussing Mehsud’s death provides an an alias, Khan Said Sajna, and also mentions other high profile islamist militants. We dig into the rivalry between Mehsud and Mulah Fazlullah, the third and current leader of the TTP. We star their names and the provinces out of which they are known to operate.

As we explore, the knowledge board dynamically updates. This helps us track the big picture as we transition through many documents on different sites.

anchor text Figure 6: Fully expanded knowledge board

As nodes expand on the board, Diffeo automatically finds relationships that link entities. Clicking on a link between two nodes opens an evidence bundle of source documents that substantiate a connection between two entities. These knowledge-oriented recommendations help us maintain an analytic view of the data, so we can assess the nature and veracity of the relationship.

Clicking on the evidence between TTP and Hakimullah Mehsud reveals several articles that discuss Hakimullah’s role in the TTP. One article discusses a 2009 suicide attacks on CIA compounds in Afghanistan for which he claimed responsibility 5. The other article discusses and Hakimullah’s ultimate demise in a 2013 drone strike. 6

anchor text Figure 7: Evidence bundle substantiating a relationship between TTP and Hakimullah Mehsud

Opening the 2013 article on Hakimullah Mehsud’s death 6, Diffeo renders color coded highlights to denote which entities we have starred (blue), related entities we have not starred (red) and the key entities that we are tracking (yellow). Immediately standing out are the names of Hakimullah Mehsud’s personal bodyguard, Tariq Mehsud, and personal driver, Abdullah Mehsud. Starring these previously unknown entities that Diffeo has recommended further builds out our understanding of the TTP leadership.

anchor text Figure 8: Diffeo recommends names of Hakimullah’s bodyguard and driver

Returning to our knowledge board, we turn our attention to the TTP organizational entity node and to find more senior affiliates. Clicking on the edge between TTP and Ehsanullah Ehsan returns the relational evidence for us to review. Within the evidence bundle is a 2017 FOIA response from the US State Department that lists Ehsan as a spokesman for the TTP. 7

anchor text Figure 9: Diffeo substantiates the relationship between the TTP and Ehsanullah Ehsan

How did Diffeo Help?

Starting with just the notice of the deputy’s death, Diffeo helped us quickly understand the history of TTP leadership. The links to personal associates of the leaders accelerated our understanding. Now that we know about a couple of bodyguards, spokesmen, and personal drivers, we can ask more intelligent questions about the support members of the TTP, such as: which drivers have worked for multiple senior leaders or which spokesman have worked at legitimate news organizations.