Afghan resistance leader warns attack on American soil ‘not a matter of if but when’

Ahmad Massoud warns against rising threats of attacks by terror outfits regrouping in vacuum created by US troops pullout from Aghanistan

Arpan Rai
Wednesday 01 May 2024 07:09 BST
Al-Qaeda relaunches Afghan training camps

The leader of an armed resistance against the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan has warned the US and Europe about rising threats of attacks by terror outfits regrouping in the vacuum created by the pullout of American troops from the region.

Ahmad Massoud, the exiled leader of the National Resistance Front (NRF) of Afghanistan, claimed “an attack on US or European soil is very much possible now. It is not about a matter of if, it’s a matter of when”.

Mr Massoud, who is the son of the former anti-Soviet mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, cited the deadly rivalry between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State and smaller factions mushrooming in Afghanistan to support his claim. The NRF opposed the Taliban takeover and clashes have occurred since August 2021 between the two sides in the resistance movement’s stronghold of Panjshir, north of the capital Kabul.

Mr Massoud told the Daily Mail the region around Afghanistan was witnessing the same furious rivalry that was seen before the 11 September 2001 attacks when terrorist Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda operatives crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Centre, attacking its north and south tower.

The terrorist attacks on the US – recorded as one of the worst ever in history – killed 2,977 people and prompted American and Nato forces to take control of Afghanistan.

In recent times, after the withdrawal of US and Nato in August 2021, Afghanistan has seen growing ties between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, Ali Maisam Nazary, the head of foreign relations for the NRF, said.

The Taliban has allowed Al-Qaeda to build training camps in Afghanistan’s Panjshir, according to the UN’s latest report on the security affairs in the war-ravaged country, he said.

The attacks in Russia, Iran, and Brussels and the neutralised attack in Germany are examples of how fast they are moving to threaten global security,” the NRF official said, adding that the FBI director also warned Congress that a terrorist attack was imminent in the US.

Mr Nazary pointed to the massive influx of foreign terrorist fighters into Afghanistan after August 2021. More than 20 regional and global terror networks are operating inside Afghanistan with protective cover and assistance from the Taliban, he said.

The terror threats from these groups were not limited to Afghanistan but also endanger nations abroad, he said.

“The Taliban’s pursuit to build three-four jihadi madrasas in each of Afghanistan’s 400 districts will radicalise and indoctrinate more than a million youth within the next five years if they survive,” he said. A report in the Diplomat earlier this year said the Taliban were actively establishing religious seminaries across Afghanistan after banning girls and women from schools and colleges.

“The return of the Taliban has started the fourth phase of terrorism and jihadism around the globe by emboldening the narrative and giving all terror groups a strategy and optimism that they can defeat or at least bring their enemies to the negotiating table,” he told The Independent.

The fourth wave of terrorism, according to political scientist David Rapoport, is about the era in post Cold war witnessing calls for a holy war of radical Muslims against those deemed unfaithful. It was triggered by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the Islamic revolution in Iran.

Before the 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan saw the presence of several Mujahideen fighters of smaller guerrilla groups but led predominantly by the Taliban, the Al-Qaeda, helmed by Laden, who offered the motive and teachings of jihadism (holy war), and the Islamist group Haqqani network which facilitated the foreign assistance. The network of these fighters successfully pushed the Soviet forces out of Afghanistan in 1989 and led to the Taliban’s rule, backed by Laden and his deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri who helped orchestrate the 9/11 attacks.

The US in 2012 designated the Pakistan-based Haqqani network as a terrorist organisation.

Mr Massoud also said the political turbulence in Ukraine and the Middle East was helping the Taliban by keeping the West distracted.

In an interview with The Independent last year, Mr Massoud said Afghanistan is no longer a priority for president Joe Biden’s administration.

“I want to ask if the Biden administration is OK with a military group storming the government and taking power from a democratic administration,” he had asked. “If they were not OK with the Capitol riots, why are they OK with the Taliban?”

According to testimony by Nathan Sales, the former US ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism in April last year, Al-Qaeda is reconstituting itself in legacy haven Afghanistan.

“While Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is a permissive environment for terrorists in general, two groups are of particular concern: Al-Qaeda and ISIS-K. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda have been allies for more than a quarter century, and Al-Qaeda is now reconstituting itself in its historic safe haven,” he told the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence.

“The continued partnership between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is perhaps best seen in the fact that, after the US withdrawal, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri resurfaced in Afghanistan, living in a safe house associated with the Haqqani Network, a Taliban faction that maintains close ties to Al-Qaeda and is itself a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organisation,” the nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council said.

He said the safe house used by Zawahiri was located in the Shirpur district in the heart of Kabul, “a prosperous neighbourhood that is controlled by the Haqqanis and is just down the street from the former US embassy”.

“The key takeaway is that the Taliban felt emboldened to welcome Al-Qaeda’s leader back to Kabul, and Al-Qaeda’s leader felt it was safe enough there to accept the offer,” he told the committee.

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