Afghan guerrilla bases are reopened

Caroline Lees reports from the secret schools where young men are trained to wage Holy War
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The Independent Online
Khost - Guerrilla training camps closed by the Taliban Islamic army are reopening - under new management. When the Taliban were formed two years ago, they promised to rid Afghanistan of such "universities", where Muslims from all over the world were taught to make guns and to wage guerrilla warfare.

Their promise helped win support for the Islamic army, especially from the West, which linked graduates of Afghanistan camps with terrorism. Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA), the group believed to have killed the five Western hostages it kidnapped in Kashmir last year, sends all its recruits to the camps.

Ahmed Sheikh, a former London School of Economics student who kidnapped two Britons in New Delhi two years ago, said he was trained in Afghanistan.

A recent attack on the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, was blamed on people who had just finished bomb-making classes across the border.

Until now, Western observers hoped that the Taliban would fulfil their pledge to ban training, especially after they closed camps near Jalalabad and Kabul. But there is evidence that at least two camps have reopened. Al Badr 1 and Al Badr 2, on the Pakistani border, were closed two months ago and 107 Pakistani trainees sent home. But, this week, they are back in operation, with the same instructors and many of the same trainees. Only the management is new: Hezb-i-Islami, a group led by the Prime Minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and which is loyal to President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was expelled from Kabul in September, has been moved out, and the HUA moved in.

Before the Taliban advance two years ago, camps were dotted around the country, mostly run as businesses by Mr Hekmatyar and another ally of Mr Rabbani. Mr Hekmatyar ran camps near the Pakistani border and near Jalalabad, south-east of Kabul. The largest, Darunta, closed soon after the Taliban took the city in August. The camp was home to training for 200 foreigners and is now empty.

The other owner, Abd al Rabb al Rasul Sayyaf, had camps east and west of Kabul,which have also closed. Both received millions of pounds in "aid" from Middle Eastern groups in exchange for training Islamists for the "holy war". Now the Taliban appear to want a cut. Although Mr Hekmatyar's and Mr Sayyaf's camps are empty, it is rumoured that they, like Al Badr, will soon reopen, under Taliban control.

Few would be surprised. "Afghanistan is a very good investment site for terrorism. It will always have a front line, weapons are easily and cheaply available and anything goes there," said a Western diplomat.

Jamaat-i-Islami (JII), a Pakistani group which sent members for training, intends to continue as soon as more camps reopen. Yacoub, a JII leader, learnt to use guns and rocket launchers, and received religious instruction in Afghanistan. "I learned useful ... skills, which Muslims will continue to need until we get the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in our own countries."