Holy warriors outstay their welcome: Arab volunteers who fought in the Afghan war find that their 'jihad' is over, Tim McGirk writes from the Pakistani frontier town of Peshawar

MARRIAGES in this town are lively affairs. The Pathan tribesmen do not throw rice. Instead, they punctuate the festivities with a few bursts into the air from their AK-47s. But in the past few days the main wedding hall in Peshawar has been filled with a more dangerous kind of gunman: it has been turned into an interrogation centre for more than 230 Arabs whom intelligence agencies in the US, Pakistan and the Middle East suspect of terrorism.

Pakistan, under pressure from the US, is rounding up the many Arabs who gravitated to Peshawar in the past 14 years to join in the jihad - or holy war - by Afghan guerrillas against the former Soviet-backed regime in Kabul. Now that the Afghan guerrillas have won, the US and several Middle Eastern governments fear that some of the insurgents who remain are using Peshawar as a staging- post for terrorist operations in their own countries and in the West. There are links, for example, between the suspects in the World Trade Center bombing and an Egyptian extremist group, el-Gamaat el-Islamiya, which until recently based itself in Peshawar. Peshawar's police chief, Massoud Shah, said: 'The jihad is over. They have no business being here.'

Police checking the identities of the Arab detainees have been given wanted-lists by the US and governments of such countries as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, which all face militant Islamic movements at home, according to diplomatic sources in Islamabad. Few of the 230 Arabs held in the wedding hall are thought to be terrorists. Many suspects - including Mohammed Shawky Islambouli, deputy leader of el-Gamaat el-Islamiya - vanished into Afghanistan as soon as the crackdown began. Most of the Arabs netted by the police are doctors, engineers and nurses belonging to the 130 Muslim organisations providing relief aid to the Afghans.

The purge has infuriated many Arabs and Pakistanis, who see it as a double-cross by Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, and a poor reward for the Arabs' role in sweeping the Soviet army out of Afghanistan. But Mr Sharif is worried by the Clinton administration's threat to put Pakistan on its list of states sponsoring terrorism. Washington is worried about Pakistan's nuclear-bomb programme, its covert aid to Kashmiri and Sikh militants inside India and, until recently, its sheltering of Islamic extremists.

Pakistani officials view the new US stance with dismay and bewilderment. Anxious to thwart the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the CIA helped to recruit and arm Muslim militants from around the world flocking to the jihad. So intent was the US on defeating Moscow in this proxy war that the Reagan and Bush administrations overlooked Pakistan's attempts to import restricted materials to make between five and 10 nuclear bombs. These twin side-effects of the Afghan war - Islamic terrorism and the spectre of a nuclear war between Pakistan and India - are bedevilling President Clinton.

Munir Akram, a senior Pakistani foreign office spokesman, said: 'We don't understand how suddenly we're in the cross-hairs of the Americans. We both participated in this Afghan exercise. It may be over for the US, but we're stuck with these jihadis and we're stuck with a lot of weapons.'

The clean-up of expatriate Muslim extremists is being challenged by a powerful Islamic Pakistani political party, the Jamiat Islami. Throughout the war, the Jamiat collected funds for the Afghan war from rich Gulf Arabs and funnelled Muslim volunteers from 20 countries into the Afghan training camps.

Many of the volunteers were 'holiday holy warriors', students and government employees who would put in a few months tying bandages or carrying rucksacks full of rocket-propelled grenades over the mountain passes and then return home if they survived. But between 1,500 and 6,000 belonging to fundamentalist groups outlawed in their own countries joined the jihad as much for combat experience as reasons of faith.

Murad Ali Shah, the Jamiat Islami party ideologue, said: 'These people come from repressive un-Islamic regimes. They can't go back or they'll be arrested at the airport and hanged.

'Now that they're being forced to leave Pakistan, their animosity is directed at the West. They could go anywhere - London, New York, Bonn. Anywhere.'

These fugitive militants have crossed over to Afghanistan. Police and Arab sources said many took refuge at an Arab camp, Samar Khel, in the hills behind Jalalabad, which is in a region controlled by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the former rebel chief and prime minister-designate, who has roped dozens of Arab fighters into his feud with the other Afghan leaders bunkered in the wrecked capital.

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week