Children had gun lessons at terror school

Click to follow
The Independent Online

From the outside, the mudbrick building set in orchards looks like an ordinary Afghan school. Inside the classroom, spent bullet casings and a silhouetted target riddled with gunfire tell a different story.

Here, local residents said, is where some 30 to 40 children of the foreign fighters who form the backbone of Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network were taught how to shoot straight.

Below the school, built on a rocky outcrop, lie vegetable patches and the houses, now looted, where the fighters lived with their families.

"This is Osama's centre. These are the people of Osama's centre. The families were living here and this is the school for their children," a local resident, Baz Mohammad, said as he showed a visiting reporter round the school on Saturday.

"And this is the target where they trained their children to use Kalashnikovs and other weapons," Mohammad said, glancing over his shoulder at the wooden target with a black silhouette stencilled on to it. The wall against which it has been set is also pock-marked with bullet holes.

Jalalabad, some 45 miles from the Pakistani border, was known as a centre of the training camps used by Mr bin Laden and his al-Qa'ida guerrilla network.

The foreign fighters fled with their families after a shoot-out with the forces of the opposition, which took the eastern city of Jalalabad on Wednesday following several weeks of heavy US bombardment. By all accounts they left in a hurry. Books and shards of glass litter the floor of the ransacked classroom.

In the school grounds, two armouries still bulge with weapons. Mortars and mines nestle next to guns and bullet belts. A long steel container holds perhaps 100 rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

The foreign fighters – residents say they were Arabs, Malaysians and Egyptians – had apparently tried to bury their weapons before they fled. RPGs and mortars lie in a right-angled trench.

"These are the fields and these are the houses where the men of Osama lived. This is the centre for them," said school watchman Gul Mohammad. "They just ran away from here with their families – maybe to Pakistan, I don't know."

Muslim militants from the Philippines to Chechnya, from Pakistan to the Middle East, heeded Mr bin Laden's call to wage jihad, or holy war, and they arrived in their thousands in Afghanistan to train in weapons and bomb-making in a string of remote camps under the protection of the Taliban.

Those foreign fighters – collectively dubbed Arab Afghans – who have not escaped now face a fight to the death after assertions by the rampant Northern Alliance that they will not be spared.

Several thousand foreign fighters are believed to be among the thousands of Taliban defending the northern town of Kunduz, one of the few remaining pockets of Taliban control.

Afghan Taliban in Kunduz are negotiating a surrender, but the foreign fighters – Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens, Uzbeks and Bangladeshis – feel they have nothing to lose, said Zubai, a Northern Alliance Foreign Ministry official.

"The mayor of Kunduz is negotiating with local Taliban and they say we will give up the city for you. But the foreign Taliban will never accept this," he said on Saturday. Reuters