Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Other Jihadi-Tourists

Foreign fighters are a phenomenon known in most conflict areas of the Muslim world, be it Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Somalia or Yemen. The foreign elements fighting among local, native insurgent groups are a major concern for the enemy party as they are regarded as more ruthless, willing to die in battle or as a suicide bomber and they are further radicalizing local groups. What is described by the U.S. military in Afghanistan as the foreign fighter factor is usually a very small percentage of Jihadi militants of Arab, Central Asian, North African or even European origin. These Jihadi tourists traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region to fight against Pakistani forces in Waziristan and Western NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

To the native Afghan and Pakistani militants the foreigners are very alien, an exotic import by al-Qaeda and other groups, often lacking basic training or even the ability to adapt to the new terrain, culture or just the food of the locals. Because they are isolated, they are unable to speak the local language, communicate with the villagers and many of them even handover their ID documents, money and personal belongings to their handlers as a sign of commitment to receive martyrdom on the battlefield of Afghanistan. Whatever origin the foreign jihadi is – be it Saudi, Tunisian, Indonesian, Chechen, German or French – they are restricted in movement and it poses an almost impossible challenge for them to melt into local ethnic groups. They are lost eventhough they are surrounded by brothers in faith and arms in Waziristan.

But what about those who are familiar with Afghan and Pakistani culture? What about Afghan people living Europe or the Middle East? They are a foreign fighter element that has not come to the attention of counter-terrorism experts and Afghan/U.S. security forces…but they exist and their number might increase.

As a journalist for British Guardian found out earlier this year, Afghans from the UK are spending a very unusual form of vacation in the Afghan mountains. By coincidence the reporter met a cab driver from London fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban in Northern Afghanistan. And the man was not the only European Jihadi he encountered. Other ethnic Afghans from Norway and the UK spent several months on “Jihad vacation”, fighting against the Americans and their Afghan allies.

Read the Guardian piece about these European Taliban here.

Kidnapped U.S. Soldier Appears in New Taliban-Video

by Florian Flade

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More than  half a year since he appeared in a video for the last time, kidnapped U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl is featured in a new propaganda video released by the Afghan Taliban. Bergdahl, a 24 year-old from Idaho, was taken hostage by Taliban fighters on June 30th 2009 after he left his military outpost base in East Afghan province of Paktika. The Taliban of the Haqqani network claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and demanded money and the release of prisoners for Bergdahl´s release.

On July 18th 2009 the Taliban released the first of three videos showing their American hostage. Bergdahl was seen sitting in a room, eating and telling about his capture and his condition. The second hostage video titled “One of Their People Testified” was released in December 2009 and showed the U.S. soldier wearing his military uniform, sunglasses and a helmet, talking about U.S. foreign policy and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Back in April of this year, the last proof of life video of Bowe Bergdahl appeared on the internet. This time the hostage soldier showed of a grown beard and is seen outside the buildings he is allegedly held in, doing some workout in front of the camera.

NATO responded by giving out a statement saying, using Bergdahl “as a means of propaganda is a deplorable act and only fuels our efforts to find him and bring him home”. Yet, all efforts finding Private Bergdahl did not produce any positive result. It is very likely the soldier was taken to the Pakistani tribal areas close to the Afghan border and is now being held by Haqqani fighters somewhere near Miramshah, North Waziristan.

Now Bowe Bergdahl appeared in a new video produced by the Haqqani Taliban network. For a few seconds the kidnapped soldier is shown standing in a mountain forest, next to Mullah Sangin Zadran, the local commander of the Haqqani network in Paktika province. Since Bergdahl disappeared in summer 2009, it was believed Mullah Sangin was indeed the leader of the hostage-taker cell.

Mullah Sangin is regarded as one of the most prominent field commanders loyal to Sirajuddin Haqqani and his well known father Jalahuddin Haqqani. As most of the militants of the Haqqani network, Mullah Sangin belongs to the Zadran tribe of North Waziristan. For several years now he is the “Director of Military Affairs of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for Paktika Province”.

Among Mullah Sangin´s fighters there are not only Afghan and Pakistani Pashtuns but also foreign jihadis of Uzbek, Chechen and Arab origin. During an interview with al-Qaeda´s media wing As-Sahab in 2009, Mullah Sangin talked about the relationship between Taliban and Osama Bin Laden´s organization: “We do not see any difference between Taliban and Al- Qaeda, for we all belong to the religion of Islam.”

Eventhough the Haqqanis have come forward with several demands the U.S. should meet to secure the release of Bowe Bergdahl – including the release of Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui. No official negotiations have started yet, and even the latest appearence of Bergdahl in the new Taliban video is no proof the soldier is still alive. It seems the latest released footage was recorded shortly after the kidnapping of Bergdahl, so it is probably sixteen months old.

In the past months rumours appeared in several internet forums used by Jihadis saying Bergdahl had converted to Islam and is teaching the Taliban militants in Northwest Pakistan in how to build explosive devices. This information has never been confirmed by the Taliban. If true, they would have created a new propaganda piece highlighting the soldier´s conversion to Islam.

Fitnah in the Caucasus

 

Colleague Aaron Zelin wrote a very interesting article for “The Atlantic” on the latest developments within the Caucasian Jihadi Movement of the “Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus”. Just as it seemed a new surge in violence in Chechnya, Ossetia, Dagestan and other places of the Caucasus is about to drive the region into the next war, the Islamist rebel movements officially led by Dokku Umarov, is facing internal fighting over the leadership question.

Umarov´s leadership is threatened by opponents working as the regional or Wilayat commanders of the “Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus”. Some of those regional Jihadi leaders refused to swear the ba´yat (oath) to a new leader shortly after Dokku Umarov himself declared he would resign as the Emir of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucsus back in July. Successors started to fight on who is about to lead the Jihad against the regional Pro-Russian forces – the movement since then is shaken by lack of unity.

Read more about this fitnah in the Caucasian Jihadi Movement in Aaron´s piece “Jihadists in Crisis” here.