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Al Qaeda plans move to Iraq
Hamid Mir in Asadabad, Kunar, Afghanistan | September 11, 2003 12:58 IST
Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist and Al Qaeda leader, has directed a large number of his fighters to move from Afghanistan to Iraq to attack US troops. Abu Zarar, an Arab Afghan, disclosed this to me in the mountains close to Asadabad city.
Abu Zarar was the only Arab found during a long journey from Spin Boldik to Kabul and Kabul to Kunar. He came to Afghanistan 20 years ago and joined the Ittehad-e-Islami in Peshawar. After two years he joined Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami; he claims he is still loyal to Hekmatyar.
He was very careful and refused to reveal his original name and nationality, but he explained, "I developed friendly relations with Al Qaeda fighters during the Taliban regime. The Taliban were against Hekmatyar, but I managed to stay in Asadabad with the help of Abu Hafz Al-Misri, who was one of bin Laden's close associates. Now I am helping them to move from Afghanistan to Iraq because most of them were asked by their leadership to go there for the reason that it is easy to target Americans in Iraq than the Afghanistan."
According to Abu Zarar most of the Arab fighters associated with Al Qaeda can speak very good Pushto and Persian. Some of them have married into Afghan tribes and it is very difficult to identify them in search operations because they have beards and are fair like the Pushtuns. Most Pushtun majority areas are safe for the Arabs because the Hamid Karzai government's writ does not run in rural Afghanistan. Ordinary Pushtuns have a soft corner for the Taliban and Hekmatyar is very popular in Kunar. The Pushtuns of Kunar don't speak to foreigners easily, but some Badakhshani and Tajik taxi drivers in Asadabad are ready to provide any information -- true or false -- about the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The non-Pushtun taxi drivers claim that bin Laden is hiding in the mountains of Kunar close to Bajour, but Abu Zarar said most of the Arab fighters are moving towards southern Afghanistan which is closer to the Iranian border. They enter Iran and then try to reach Syria. Other sources in Kunar claimed that US troops constantly raid Asadabad, so bin Laden must have moved from Kunar to Paktia which is much safer.
All the sources I spoke to in Afghanistan are sure bin Laden is alive. Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah told me in his Kabul office, "Yes, he is alive and planning more terrorist attacks, but will be nabbed very soon."
There is anger among the Pushtuns of Kunar -- like other Pushtun areas from Helmad to Ghazni and Paktia to Khost -- against the "Tajik rulers of Afghanistan." They say America imposed the minority Tajiks on the majority Pushtuns of Afghanistan. They believe that Pushtun President Hamid Karzai is powerless. The resentment among the Pushtuns against America and the Tajiks is more political than religious. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are the beneficiaries of that resentment.
There is a common view among the Tajiks that bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas and Islamabad is again helping the Taliban. But the Pushtuns are not ready to trust Pakistan again. Says Abu Zarar, "Bush is inviting Musharraf to Washington again and again because more than 300 Arab fighters were handed over to Bush by Musharraf in December 2001. That is why we hate Musharraf."
Hamid Mir is a Pakistani television journalist who recently interviewed President Hamid Karzai in Kabul and met many anti-Karzai elements in Spin Boldik and Kunar for his special documentary on Afghanistan after 9/11. He is also Osama bin Laden's biographer.
More reports from Afghanistan
Read about: America's War on Terror