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


Entry of Iranian apples sours Kashmiri fruit industry

A Kashmiri farmer transports apples on a wheelbarrow inside his orchard in Wuyan, south of Srinagar Indian controlled Kashmir. (AP file photo)
A Kashmiri farmer transports apples on a wheelbarrow inside his orchard in Wuyan, south of Srinagar Indian controlled Kashmir. (AP file photo)
Updated 24 January 2022

Entry of Iranian apples sours Kashmiri fruit industry

A Kashmiri farmer transports apples on a wheelbarrow inside his orchard in Wuyan, south of Srinagar Indian controlled Kashmir. (AP file photo)
  • The new apples on the Indian market have devalued Kashmir’s fruit sector
  • Worth $1.34 billion, the apple industry contributes up to 10 percent of Kashmir’s GDP

NEW DELHI: Tajamul Habib Makroo was hoping a bumper crop of apples this year would help him recover from huge losses due to early snowfalls in the previous harvest season, but now he says a new crisis is looming: The arrival of cheap Iranian fruits, which growers like Makroo fear could upend horticulture in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

Concentrated in the southern Shopian district, the state’s apple industry contributes 1.8 million tons of the fruit, or 80 percent of India’s annual production, and involves over 5 million workers in the region.

With annual production worth about $1.34 billion, it saw a sudden drop in value last year, when cheap Iranian apples entered the Indian market via Afghanistan, which boasts a free trade agreement with New Delhi.

“Today’s market is very down, rates are down because the apples coming from Iran have brought the apple prices in India down,” Makroo, who has orchards in Sugan village, Shopian, told Arab News.

He said the Iranian apples have slashed the price of local produce in half.

“Earlier, I used to get 1,200 rupees ($16) per box, today the rate is 600,” Makroo added. “The rate we are getting is not able to cover production costs.” In early January, the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers-cum-Dealers Union, an apex body representing Kashmiri fruit growers, wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to save the industry.

Bashir Ahmad Bashir, the union’s president, said Iranian apples were cheap due to international sanctions imposed on Tehran.

“We have taken up the matter with the Indian government when we came to know about it and warned the government that if the products come to India from Iran, (the) Indian horticulture industry will suffer a lot,” Bashir told Arab News, adding that imposing duties on Iranian fruits could help save the domestic industry.

Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said a lack of intervention would deal a major blow to the local economy. “It’s 8 percent to 10 percent of our GDP of Kashmir,” he told Arab News. “When unemployment is a big challenge for Jammu and Kashmir in this situation the government should take strong notice of it and should defend our people.”

 

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Muslims second ‘least-liked’ group in UK: Survey

Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayer on the streets outside the mosque of the Muslim centre in east London. (AFP/File Photo)
Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayer on the streets outside the mosque of the Muslim centre in east London. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 24 January 2022

Muslims second ‘least-liked’ group in UK: Survey

Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayer on the streets outside the mosque of the Muslim centre in east London. (AFP/File Photo)
  • 25.9% of Britons feel negatively toward them, 18.1% support banning Muslim immigration
  • ‘Islamophobia remains one of the most acceptable forms of racism,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: Muslims are the second “least-liked” group in the UK, according to a new study that reveals the shocking extent of Islamophobia in the country.

The study, by researchers at the University of Birmingham, found that roughly one in four Britons hold negative views of Muslims and Islam — the highest of any group apart from gypsies and Irish travelers.

Over a quarter of people — 25.9 percent — feel negatively toward Muslims, and just under 10 percent feel “very negative.”

Significantly more Britons hold negative views of Islam in the survey of 1,667 people than they do of other religions.

That translates into much higher support for a hypothetical policy that bars all Muslim migration to Britain.

Nearly one in five people — 18.1 percent — support banning all Muslim migration to the UK, and 9.5 percent “strongly support” that idea.

The study found that Britons are very willing to pass judgment on Islam, but are extremely unlikely to have any real knowledge of the religion.

“British people acknowledge their ignorance of most non-Christian religions, with a majority stating they are ‘not sure’ how Jewish (50.8 percent) and Sikh (62.7 percent) scriptures are taught,” said the study.

“In the case of Islam, however, people feel more confident making a judgment, with only 40.7 percent being unsure. This is despite the fact that people are much more likely to make the incorrect assumption that Islam is ‘totally’ literalistic.”

This finding — that Britons know less about Islam but are more willing to pass judgment on the faith — “says something about how prejudice works,” Dr. Stephen Jones, author of the study and a researcher focusing on British Muslims, told Arab News.

“We tend to associate prejudice with ignorance, but that’s too simple. Instead, prejudice is a kind of miseducation: Many people in this country think they know what Islam is about, and what Muslims believe, in a way that they admit they don’t for other non-Christian religions.”

Islamophobia is so widespread in Britain, Jones said, that it has become socially acceptable. That is why the report dubs it “the dinner table prejudice” — because people will openly and freely admit to their anti-Muslim prejudice, in a way that they are unlikely to with other religious or ethnic groups.

Jones said: “What I think surveys like this into public attitudes tell us is that not only do Muslims suffer discrimination, but that public hostility toward Muslims is on some level publicly accepted. It’s not just that Muslims suffer from Islamophobia, but that this discrimination isn’t publicly recognized.”

The research makes a series of policy recommendations to address the prevalence of Islamophobia in the UK, including acknowledging that “systemic miseducation about Islam is common in British society and forms an important element of Islamophobia.”

It added: “Government and other public figures should publicly acknowledge and address the lack of public criticism that Islamophobic discourses and practices trigger.”

The report lands at a sensitive time for the ruling Conservative Party, with former Cabinet Minister Nusrat Ghani announcing that she was removed from her position because her “Muslimness” made her colleagues uncomfortable.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered an inquiry into her removal, but he has himself previously faced accusations of Islamophobia, including by comparing women who wear the niqab to “letterboxes.” 

Shaista Aziz, an anti-racism and equalities campaigner, told Arab News: “Islamophobia is anti-Muslim racism and it has deep-seated and historic roots in the UK. Yet Islamophobia continues to be denied as a form of racism by many across all spheres of society, including in politics, the media and academia.”

She added: “This report provides further nuanced evidence of how pernicious and mainstream Islamophobia is, and how those in power are refusing to recognize this racism.

“Islamophobia remains one of the most acceptable forms of racism, and one that overwhelmingly remains overlooked, denied and unchallenged.”


Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead

Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead
Updated 24 January 2022

Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead

Several wounded in shooting in German city; gunman dead
  • Police didn’t specify how many people were wounded, or how seriously

BERLIN: A lone gunman wounded several people at a lecture theater in the southwestern German city of Heidelberg on Monday, police said.
Police said in a brief statement that the perpetrator was dead, but didn’t give details of how that happened. They had earlier asked people on Twitter to avoid the Neuenheimer Feld area of Heidelberg, where the city’s university campus is located.
Police didn’t specify how many people were wounded, or how seriously. The university’s press office declined to give any details on the shooting and referred all inquiries to police.
Police said the weapon used in the shooting was a long-barreled firearm.
Heidelberg is located south of Frankfurt and has about 160,000 inhabitants. Its university is one of Germany’s best-known.


Thousands protest in Sudan against military rule

Thousands protest in Sudan against military rule
Updated 24 January 2022

Thousands protest in Sudan against military rule

Thousands protest in Sudan against military rule
  • Crowds in the capital Khartoum were heading toward the presidential palace

KHARTOUM: Thousands of Sudanese protesters rallied Monday calling for civilian rule and demanding justice for those killed in crackdowns since a military coup nearly three months ago, an AFP correspondent said.
Crowds in the capital Khartoum were heading toward the presidential palace, an area which security forces had sealed off ahead of the march.
Anti-coup demonstrations since the October 25 military power grab have left at least 73 people killed and hundreds wounded, according to medics.


Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack

Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack
Updated 24 January 2022

Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack

Liverpool hospital bomber was rejected for asylum 6 years before attack
  • Iraqi-born Emad Al-Swealmeen tried to pose as Syrian refugee to gain entry to UK
  • He had 2 asylum claims rejected before blowing himself up in November 2021

LONDON: A man who blew himself up in an attempted attack on a women’s hospital in England was rejected for an asylum application six years before the failed bombing, it has emerged.

Iraqi-born Emad Al-Swealmeen died after his homemade bomb detonated in a taxi outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital in November 2021. He was the only person killed or harmed.

A series of papers obtained by the BBC and other news outlets reveal new information about the years leading up to his failed attack, and raise questions about the UK’s asylum system.

Al-Swealmeen, 32, first visited Britain in 2013, when he entered on a visitor’s visa and was fingerprinted — a crucial step that later helped authorities uncover a string of lies he told as he sought asylum.

He returned to the UK in May 2014 with a Jordanian passport, but falsely claimed to be of Syrian heritage in his asylum applications, according to the papers.

A judge heard at the time that an Arabic-language expert identified his speech patterns to be Iraqi, and that his story of oppression and suffering in Syria was unlikely to be a retelling of his own experience.

“His account of his time in Syria gives the impression of someone quoting information that is in the public domain rather than having first-hand experience,” ruled the judge when rejecting his application for asylum. 

“The appellant did not identify himself with any particular faction or indicate that he would be at risk other than in a general sense.”

An appeal against the decision was then dismissed in 2015. Al-Swealmeen applied again in 2017 under a new name, and was once again rejected in 2020.

He appealed that rejection last year, but a decision on that appeal was never made because months later he was killed in his attack on the hospital.

It is not clear why he was not removed from Britain after his asylum claims were rejected and his falsehoods exposed.

The documents also detailed a slew of mental health issues he was struggling with, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

It also emerged that Al-Swealmeen had been imprisoned in Iraq for a serious assault, and had previous convictions in Liverpool for possession of an offensive weapon. 

He was caught waving a knife at passers-by in a Liverpool underpass, and was detained under the Mental Health Act.

The Home Office did not comment on the specific circumstances of Al-Swealmeen’s case, but told the BBC that it is “fixing the broken asylum system” in its current legislation.

A spokesperson said: “The new plan for immigration will require people to raise all protection-related issues up front, to tackle the practice of making multiple and sequential claims and enable the removal of those with no right to be in our country more quickly.”