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Al-Qaida Suicide Teams Train in Pakistan

December 12, 2002

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) _ Suicide squads are being trained in Pakistan by al-Qaida operatives to hit targets in Afghanistan and the bombers’ families are being promised $50,000, say Afghan and Pakistani sources.

The Pakistani government denies the presence of camps here. ``Nobody will ever be able to either hide here or establish training camps in Pakistan,″ said Interior Ministry spokesman Iftikar Ahmed.

But privately, some officials in Pakistan’s intelligence community and Interior Ministry say they believe there is such bomb training and that it is protected by Pakistani militants and Taliban sympathizers in the Pakistan military.

The nephew of Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the Taliban’s No. 3 man, says the training camps are in Bajour and Mansehra, towns in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province where support for the former Afghan regime runs strong.

The nephew asked that his name not be used, saying he feared retaliation from both the Taliban and Pakistanis. He said he agreed to an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday because he believes suicide bombing is wrong. He also seemed interested in getting U.S. attention and possibly a reward.

There is a $10 million reward for Mullah Mohammed Omar, the deposed Taliban leader, but not for most other Taliban officials. The nephew said he has not talked to any U.S. official, and would not approach the Pakistanis because he suspects they are in league with the Taliban.

Kabir’s nephew had a video taken at a graduation ceremony in the southwestern Pakistan city of Quetta where Kabir and several top Taliban leaders, including former intelligence officials and governors, were present and some spoke. He also had an audio cassette from speeches given at a mosque in Quetta in which Kabir spoke on behalf of Mullah Omar, condemning the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and calling on the faithful to wage a holy war against the Americans.

During two weeks of training, would-be bombers are told by Arab instructors that they are waging war on the Jews and ``will be martyrs and go straight to heaven and their family will get $50,000,″ Kabir’s nephew said.

They are trained in small groups and not all are told they must die, he said. Some are taught to detonate bombs by remote control, and to drive explosives-laden trucks into Afghanistan, he said.

So far two Afghans and one suspected al-Qaida operative trained at these camps have infiltrated Afghanistan but have been arrested, the nephew said. He did not know whether these were the same people whose arrest was announced by Afghan authorities two months ago after they came from Pakistan in a car packed with explosives.

The nephew said one of the men arrested was an Iraqi. Last month, an Iraqi man was arrested in Kabul, the Afghan capital, but the nephew couldn’t say whether he was among those trained in Bajour, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Kunar.

U.S. forces are scouring the mountains that crisscross Afghanistan’s Kunar province searching for Taliban and al-Qaida operatives, and for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Iranian-backed rebel commander.

A Western intelligence source in Pakistan also said training was going on in Bajour and in Mansehra area. He said there had been reports that Hekmatyar loyalists had purchased several vehicles for the purpose of carrying explosives. Afghan, Pakistani and Western sources say Kabir has forged an alliance with Hekmatyar, who is also being sought by the United States.

The AP also acquired books written in both Pashtu and Persian extolling the virtue of carrying out suicide attacks. It cited verses from the Islamic holy book, the Quran, to support suicide attacks. Most Muslim scholars, however, say suicide is against Islamic teachings.

Reports of trained suicide squads surfaced last September when one of Hekmatyar’s military commanders, Salauddin Safi, told AP that some Taliban had formed an alliance with Hekmatyar’s followers, a view shared by Western intelligence sources, who believe Kabir is working with Hekmatyar.

With money from al-Qaida and Iran, the two groups formed a new alliance called Lashkar Fedayan-e-Islami, or the Islamic Martyrs Brigade, which Safi said would target U.S. military installations.

In a separate interview, a man who served in the Cabinet of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Pakistan’s army protects the Taliban.

``They have even given them their jeeps to get around safely. Why do you think none of the top Taliban who came to Pakistan have been arrested?″ he said.

The nephew said Kabir is protected by Pakistan’s intelligence and its military. He travels freely throughout Pakistan, from its deeply Islamic tribal regions to the southwestern city of Quetta and to Haripur, a city 35 miles north of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

His entourage includes former Taliban governors, intelligence chiefs and, in recent weeks, Maulvi Ghazi, special adviser to Mullah Omar, the nephew said. Omar is high on the U.S. wanted list.

With the October election that gave religious hard-liners control of the strategic provinces that border Afghanistan, fugitive Taliban have become increasingly brazen, even launching fund-raising campaigns.

During the three-day Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr that ended last weekend, $50,000 was raised by former Taliban Maulvi Baram, the nephew said.

The Taliban even issue receipts, which say the money is for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban called the country.

Update hourly