20 years after 9/11, has the Taliban severed its ties with Al-Qaeda?

20 years after 9/11, has the Taliban severed its ties with Al-Qaeda?
A handout picture of a video grab showing Al-Qaeda's chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri (L) at an undisclosed location making an announcement, and an undated handout photograph released by the Afghan Taliban showing the new Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 September 2021

20 years after 9/11, has the Taliban severed its ties with Al-Qaeda?

20 years after 9/11, has the Taliban severed its ties with Al-Qaeda?
  • Taliban founder Mullah Omar refused to hand over 9/11 architect Osama bin Laden, prompting the US invasion
  • Under the terms of Feb. 2020 Doha peace deal with the US, the Taliban must dissociate itself from Al-Qaeda

PESHAWAR: Privately, Afghan Taliban leaders say they have made enough sacrifices for the sake of Al-Qaeda, despite publicly never conceding they ever harbored the group, its former leader Osama bin Laden, or that Afghanistan was used to prepare the 9/11 attacks and other operations.

They also argue that they lost power in Afghanistan resisting the US invasion after the 9/11 attacks, as the Bush administration launched a vengeful assault in October 2001 to destroy Al-Qaeda and oust the Taliban from power for harboring Osama bin Laden.

A frame grab (L) taken 29 October 2004 from a videotape aired by Al-Jazeera news channel shows Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. (FileAFP)

The gap between the positions that the Taliban has adopted privately and publicly shows that the Islamist group, founded by Mullah Mohammed Omar, does not want to take responsibility for the attacks — its denials meant to argue that the Taliban was, in fact, an unwitting victim when the US invaded Afghanistan.

The jury is still out on whether the Taliban remains associated with Al-Qaeda 20 years on. However, the US as well as the UN continues to claim that the Taliban has not cut its ties, providing names of Al-Qaeda members and affiliates who have died in different provinces of Afghanistan while fighting alongside the Taliban. 

Fighters loyal to Kandahar Governor Gul Agha stand in the wreckage of former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar's compound, 14 December 2001. (File/AFP)

The Taliban has denounced the claims as propaganda, and issued blanket denials. This reaction is not surprising given that, under the terms of the Taliban-US Doha peace agreement of Feb. 29, 2020, the group must dissociate itself from Al-Qaeda. 

From the outset, the Taliban had a nebulous and controversial relationship with Al-Qaeda, with conflicting views over whether the former or the latter controlled the other. The general Western viewpoint was that Al-Qaeda funded and managed the Taliban, but Taliban leaders disputed this claim and argued that they were in power in Afghanistan and, naturally, called the shots.

The relationship was rather strange because the Taliban were Afghans, known for their fighting skills and a reputation for successfully resisting invaders, including three superpowers (Britain, the Soviet Union and the US). Al-Qaeda members, meanwhile, were mostly Arabs belonging to different countries, inspired by various causes and pulled to Afghanistan by the call of war.

Curiously, the first meeting between Bin Laden and the Taliban leadership took place in an environment of suspicion. It was held in Jalalabad just a few days before the fall of Kabul to the Taliban for the first time on Sept. 26, 1996. A Taliban delegation, led by one of their commanders, Mullah Mohammad Sadiq, who had lost his son battling the Mujahideen in Logar province a few days before, was sent to Bin Laden’s house on the outskirts of Jalalabad city to meet him and find out more about his future plans.

They were unsure if Bin Laden would stay put in Jalalabad, leave Afghanistan or accompany the Afghan Mujahideen trying to escape after facing defeat by the Taliban. The Taliban fighters had just captured the city, and were on their way to Kabul.

Taliban fighters stand guard in a vehicle along the roadside in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war. (File/AFP)

I was a witness to the conversation between Mullah Sadiq, Mullah Mohammad Rabbani, the deputy leader of the Taliban at the time, and Mullah Borjan, the top Taliban military commander, to frame a unified Taliban position ahead of negotiations with Bin Laden.

All expressed their reservations about his intentions and decided to take a firm stand before deciding to let the Al-Qaeda head stay in areas controlled by the Taliban. Eventually, the issue was resolved when he gave an assurance that he would stay loyal to the Taliban and accept Mullah Omar as the Ameer-ul-Momineen. Soon afterwards, he pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar, which was conveyed to the Taliban chief through an interview I had conducted.

The Taliban supreme leader was called the Ameer-ul-Momineen (the commander of the faithful) because he had the final authority on every issue concerning the group. He was accountable to none; every member was answerable to him. His decisions had to be obeyed; disobeying him amounted to a sin.

Taliban fighters put down their weapons as they surrendered to join the Afghanistan government during a ceremony in Herat on 24, 2021. (File/AFP)

If there is a common factor that has kept both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda strong and relevant, it is their ability to survive in a united way as militant groups. Otherwise, both might have split not once, but many times over.

In hindsight, the Taliban’s decision, when it emerged as a movement in the autumn of 1994 in Kandahar, to have a supreme leader proved crucial in keeping the flock together. In Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda too had a resourceful founder.

For 27 long years, the Taliban has remained largely united despite the fact that its members were drawn to it from rival Afghan Mujahideen groups. Its leaders resisted political and monetary temptations to defect or launch separate wars on Mujahideen factions and US-led NATO forces.

Taliban fighters are pictured in a vehicle of Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) on a street in Kandahar on August 13, 2021. (File/AFP)

Though there have been a few minor splits in the group, including one led by Mullah Mohammad Rasool, none was big enough to weaken it and cause its collapse.

So far, the Taliban has had three supreme leaders, including Mullah Omar, a semi-literate village cleric from Kandahar, who was the founder and remained the supreme leader until his death in 2016. His leadership was unchallenged as long as he was alive and even his death was kept secret for nearly two years as other Taliban figures feared the group might splinter once the supreme leader was gone.

The other two supreme leaders were Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, a controversial military commander who was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, and Shaikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, a respected religious scholar who has led the Taliban to their biggest military victory to date — the capture of the entire country.

Mullah Omar, as we know, refused to hand over Bin Laden to the US after the 9/11 attacks. Tremendous pressure was brought to bear on him, including the threat of an American invasion of Afghanistan, but none of this was enough to make him change his mind.

This undated photo obtained July 30, 2015 courtesy of the US State Department shows Mullah Omar. (File/AFP)

The Pakistan government, which was close to the Taliban, also applied pressure on the group through Pakistani religious scholars and the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to hand over Bin Laden to the US or Saudi Arabia. Once again, the efforts did not succeed.

The Taliban was defeated in a few weeks as its fighters had no protection from American air power. However, they did not suffer many casualties. They merely retreated, melting into the rural population.

When the Americans invaded, Al-Qaeda decided to go to Tora Bora on the border with Pakistan. The Americans came to know Bin Laden was there in December 2001, and bombed heavily.

A US soldier armed with an M249 light machine gun takes position on a dirt road while troops from Battle Company, 1-32 Infantry Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team and Afghan National Army soldiers approach Mullah Omar mosque. (File/AFP)

The chain of events thus culminated in the US invasion, the collapse of the Taliban regime and the deaths of scores of Taliban fighters. Mullah Omar made it clear that Islamic teachings did not allow him to betray and deliver a fellow Muslim, even if the man had a $10 million price on his head.

Twitter: @rahimyusufzai1

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees
Updated 13 sec ago

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees

‘You couldn’t be more welcome,’ Prince William tells Afghan refugees
  • Around 7,000 people evacuated to Britain
  • Refugee describes ‘horrific’ airport scenes

LONDON: Prince William has told Afghan refugees who recently arrived in Britain that they were welcome in the country and praised their bravery after risking their lives working alongside British forces in Afghanistan.

The prince visited families housed in a hotel for refugees evacuated from Kabul this year.

He told families who had been forced to leave behind everything they knew and loved at short notice: “The most important thing is that you are safe now. You have a bright future. You couldn't be more welcome. Thank you for all you have done for us.”

The hotel, which is unnamed for security reasons, hosts around 175 refugees who are waiting on the government to find them long-term accommodation.

The prince was met with applause by the refugees on his arrival.

One Afghan, Hussain Saeedi Samangan, told the Daily Mail that he and his family’s escape from Kabul had been difficult, as were their initial experiences in their UK quarantine hotel, but said they felt very welcome in Yorkshire and were optimistic of a “bright, exciting future” in Britain.

Samangan added that he never believed Kabul would fall to the Taliban.

“It took everyone by surprise. You will have seen for yourself what it was like in the media. We had some very traumatic moments before the evacuation. But we were lucky to receive the help the British government were giving in getting us to the airport, compared to others who spent many hours at the gate. So we had a smoother path to get here.”

Asked by the prince whether he thought this generation of the Taliban would be different, he replied: “No. We know what the Taliban wants, we know they have not changed and that we couldn't trust them.”

Another Afghan, 33-year-old Kabul airport firefighter Haroom Shahab, told the royal that he and his family had to wait for 28 hours at the airport to move just 200 meters in order to get on a plane to the UK.

He described “horrific” scenes with thousands of people hurtling toward the runways, leaving the planes unable to land.

“They were running, they were desperate, in front of the oncoming aircraft. That was very hard for us,” he said. “We were trying to get out of the country because our lives have been torn to shreds. When we got to the UK we finally knew we would be safe. The Taliban are killing people without compassion, policemen and their families just gunned down. Anyone with a link to British or NATO forces or government.”

Shahab said he hoped to take up his old profession once again and become a firefighter in the UK.

Britain evacuated around 7,000 people from Afghanistan when the country fell to the Taliban in August and September this year. 

The government has pledged to continue to bring those who worked alongside British or NATO forces during the 20-year occupation into the UK from Afghanistan.

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter
Updated 30 November 2021

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter

Police investigating Islamophobic outburst by London Underground commuter
  • Passenger told that nobody else had spoken up because they were “scared because he is Muslim”
  • British Transport Police: We are aware of a social media video showing a hate incident on-board the District line

LONDON: Police are investigating video footage that emerged of a Muslim man being subjected to Islamophobic abuse on the London Underground.

The man was reciting verses from the Qur’an on Saturday when he was told by another passenger that “this is a Christian country” and his prayers were disrespecting him and others on the train.

Police are now investigating the incident, which was caught on camera, after the footage surfaced online. In the clip, no other passengers expressed any dissatisfaction with the man’s prayers.

The aggressor said: “You're not going to do it (recite the Qur’an) on public transport where I am sitting. You don't even have the decency to ask me if you can do it.”

The Muslim passenger replied: “I don’t need your permission.”

And the furious commuter then told him: “You need my permission to invade my privacy in my space.” 

The Muslim passenger responded: “You are over there and I’m over here,” to the man, who is seen sitting opposite him on the small carriage.

The man behind the camera was then told: “You have no respect for other people.” 

When the man, who was shouting, was told that nobody else on the train had a problem with his recital, the man said that the reason that nobody else was telling him to stop was that they were “too scared because you are a Muslim.”

Writing later on social media, the Muslim passenger said: “This passenger opposite me had an issue with me reading the Quran in a public space. Nobody seemed bothered but him to be frank.

“I told him to move if he was that pressed or to shut up, but he did neither. He just wanted me stop reading the Quran because he believes ‘we shouldn't be allowed to read our prayers on TfL.’”

He added: “I ignored him and continued my recitation, yet he went out of his way to follow me off the train and complain to London Underground.”

A British Transport Police spokesperson told MailOnline: “We are aware of a video posted on social media showing a hate incident on-board a District line Tube between Mile End and Monument stations. Officers are actively investigating this incident.”

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
Updated 30 November 2021

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death

German court convicts ex-Daesh member in Yazidi girl’s death
  • The convicted man, an Iraqi citizen, was ordered to pay the girl's family $57,000
  • First genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidis

BERLIN: A former member of the Daesh group was convicted by a German court on Tuesday of genocide and committing a war crime over the death of a 5-year-old Yazidi girl he had purchased as a slave and then chained up in the hot sun to die.
The Frankfurt regional court sentenced Taha Al-J., an Iraqi citizen whose full last name wasn’t released because of privacy rules, to life imprisonment and ordered him to pay the girl’s mother 50,000 euros ($57,000).
German news agency dpa quoted the presiding judge, Christoph Koller, saying it was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by Daesh of the Yazidi religious minority.
The defendant’s lawyers had denied the allegations made against their client.
His German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison over the girl’s death.
The girl’s mother, who survived captivity, testified at both trials and took part as a co-plaintiff.
“This is the moment Yazidis have been waiting for,” said lawyer Amal Clooney, who acted as a counsel for the mother. “To finally hear a judge, after seven years, declare that what they suffered was genocide. To watch a man face justice for killing a Yazidi girl — because she was Yazidi.”
Zemfira Dlovani, a lawyer and member of Germany’s Central Council of Yazidis, also welcomed the verdict.
“We can only hope that it will serve as a milestone for further cases to follow,” she told The Associated Press, noting that thousands of Yazidi women were enslaved and mistreated by the Daesh group. “This should be the beginning, not the end.”
The United Nations has called the Daesh assault on the Yazidis’ ancestral homeland in northern Iraq in 2014 a genocide, saying the Yazidis’ 400,000-strong community “had all been displaced, captured or killed.” Of the thousands captured by Daesh, boys were forced to fight for the extremists, men were executed if they didn’t convert to Islam — and often executed in any case — and women and girls were sold into slavery.
According to German prosecutors, Al-J. bought a Yazidi woman and her 5-year-old daughter Reda as slaves at an Daesh base in Syria in 2015. The two had been taken as prisoners by the militants from the northern Iraqi town of Kocho at the beginning of August 2014 and had been “sold and resold several times as slaves” by the group already.
The defendant took the woman and her daughter to his household in the Iraqi city of Fallujah and forced them to “keep house and to live according to strict Islamic rules,” while giving them insufficient food and beating them regularly to punish them, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege that toward the end of 2015, Al-J. chained the girl to the bars of a window in the open sun on a day where it reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and she died from the punishment. The punishment was allegedly carried out because the 5-year-old had wet the bed.
Al-J. was arrested in Greece and extradited to Germany two years ago.
German authorities took on the case under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the country to try particularly serious crimes even if they were committed elsewhere and there is no direct link to Germany.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad, who is herself a survivor of atrocities committed by Daesh, said the verdict was “a win for survivors of genocide, survivors of sexual violence, and the entire Yazidi community.”
“Germany is not only is raising awareness about the need for justice, but is acting on it,” she said in a statement. “Their use of universal jurisdiction in this case can and should be replicated by governments around the world.”

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
Updated 30 November 2021

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired

4 found dead at home in Indiana after report of shots fired
  • Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County
  • The investigation was in the preliminary stages

FORT WAYNE, Indiana: The bodies of four people were found at a home in northeastern Indiana following a report of shots being fired, authorities said.
Law enforcement responded about 9 p.m. Monday and medics confirmed that the four were dead inside the home in Allen County, near Fort Wayne, sheriff’s Cpl. Adam Griffith said at the scene.
One person described as a witness was uninjured, Griffith said, and investigators interviewed that person.
The investigation was in the preliminary stages Monday night, Griffith said, but authorities didn’t believe there was any current danger to the public. Circumstances of the deaths weren’t immediately given.
Additional information was expected to be released Tuesday.

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
Updated 30 November 2021

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT

Pentagon orders new probe into Syria airstrike investigated by NYT
  • Dozens of civilians were killed in successive airstrikes
  • A US legal officer ‘flagged the strike as a possible war crime’ but the leadership are alleged to have taken no action

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon launched a fresh probe Monday into a 2019 airstrike that killed civilians in Syria, two weeks after a New York Times investigation claimed the US military concealed dozens of non-combatants’ deaths.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin instructed Army General Michael Garrett to “review the reports of the investigation already conducted into that incident” and “conduct further inquiry into the facts and circumstances related to it,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Garrett’s three-month review will assess “civilian casualties that resulted from the incident, compliance with the law of war, record keeping and reporting procedures,” Kirby added.
It will also probe whether measures taken after the earlier investigation were effectively implemented, if “accountability measures” should be taken and if “procedures or processes should be altered.”
According to a Times investigation published mid-November, a US special force operating in Syria — sometimes in complete secrecy — bombed a group of civilians three times on March 18, 2019, near the Islamic State (IS) bastion of Baghouz, killing 70 people, mainly women and children.
The Times report says a US legal officer “flagged the strike as a possible war crime” but that “at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike.”
The Times found the strike “was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State,” but was never publicly acknowledged by the US military.
“The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified,” the report said, adding findings of a Pentagon probe were “stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.”
A statement released by the Pentagon after the report said the initial investigation into the incident by the US Army Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, found the strikes were “self-defense,” “proportional” and that “appropriate steps were taken to exclude the presence of civilians.”
A US-led coalition and Kurdish-led allies announced the defeat of the IS proto-state, known as the “caliphate,” at the end of March 2019 after overcoming the last jihadist holdout of Baghouz.