AFGHAN TALIBAN REJECT CLAIMS THEY ARE LED BY AL-QAEDA
An important interview with senior Taliban spokesman Zabihollah Mujahid attracted little attention in Western media despite indications in the interview of several important new directions in Taliban policy (Afghan Islamic Press, April 21). Most notably, Zabihollah appeared to distance the Taliban movement from al-Qaeda. Repudiating the suggestion that the resistance in Afghanistan was led by al-Qaeda rather than the Taliban, Zabihollah declared; "The ongoing resistance against the foreigners in Afghanistan is a pure Afghan resistance. The commanders and leaders of this resistance are Afghans and everything to do with this struggle is led by Afghans… The leader of our resistance is known and he is Mullah Omar Mujahid. Local commanders in each and every province and region are known.” Western media and governments have long regarded the two movements as inseparable.
While conceding the presence of foreign fighters in the Taliban ranks, the spokesman compared the situation to the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s, when many foreign fighters were found in the ranks of the mujahideen; “It was obvious that the struggle was a purely Afghan movement. The current ongoing jihad and resistance is also a pure Afghan affair." Zabihollah ended his comments on al-Qaeda by suggesting that international concerns about the terrorist group had nothing to do with the program and operations of the Afghan Taliban, saying “We are not responsible for the affairs of other parties or the world. We are only concerned about Afghanistan. It is up to al-Qaeda and the rest of the world whether they resolve their problems or not. Such issues have nothing to do with the Taliban."
A second shift in Taliban policy was outlined in Zabihollah’s remarks on Taliban inclusiveness. The post-invasion movement is generally regarded as exclusive to Afghanistan’s Sunni Muslim Pashtun tribes, but Zabihollah insists, “This is a wrong opinion. The Taliban is composed of all the tribes and nations of Afghanistan. The Taliban appoint their commanders in each province and district from among the inhabitants of those areas. The only condition is that the individual must be a Muslim and Afghan.” Most surprising is Zabihollah’s claim that the Taliban has a growing following in Afghanistan’s Shi’a communities, despite a long history of Taliban animosity for Shi’ism, as expressed in a number of massacres of Shi’a civilians. “[The Shi’i] also do not want the foreigners and infidels to dominate Afghanistan. Therefore, they are also fighting against the foreigners in the ranks of Taliban."
Lastly, Zabihollah commented on the expansion of the Taliban’s war to parts of northern Afghanistan previously considered stable. “The northern provinces are also part of Afghanistan. When the Taliban declared jihad against the forgoers [of religion] a few years back, some people in the northern provinces came under the foreigners’ influence and were saying that the Taliban were not mujahideen but terrorists, and that the foreign forces were in Afghanistan to help the people. But now people in the north have also realized that the Taliban are fighting and performing jihad just for the sake of Almighty Allah.”
The Taliban spokesman said that suicide bombings would play an important part in the Taliban’s offensive in northern Afghanistan. The expansion of the war to northern Afghanistan will help nullify the impact of the influx of new American troops to Afghanistan while relieving pressure on Taliban operations in other parts of the country. Suicide bombers will also play a role in disrupting the upcoming national elections. During the month of April there were a number of suicide bombings and ambushes of national security forces in the previously secure northern provinces of Balkh, Kunduz, Samangan and Baghlan (Cheragh [Kabul], April 21, Afghan Islamic Press, April 12; Voice of Jihad, April 12, April 19).
SOMALIA’S AL-SHABAAB THREATENS TO OCCUPY NORTH-EASTERN KENYA
Kenyan officials claim to have received warnings from al-Qaeda and Somalia’s al-Shabaab movement that they intend to invade Kenya’s North Eastern Province to annex the region to Somalia and implement shari’a law. Provincial Commissioner Kimeu Maingi expressed concern at the influx of small arms into the dominantly ethnic-Somali region and claimed that the recent kidnappings of Kenyan citizens at the border town of Mandera was intended to provoke a reaction from the Kenyan government. Maingi noted it was unjustifiable for provincial residents to keep demanding food aid from the central government when they are exchanging their livestock for arms, adding that the government had moved extra troops up to the border as part of its continuing disarmament campaign (Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, April 26).
Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Richard Onyonka declared al-Shabaab had little chance of carrying out its plan, stating, “Kenya is a sovereign country and no person or country will come and threaten the government. We have the capacity and ability to stave off any incursions from anybody else” (Capital FM Radio [Nairobi], April 27; Daily Nation [Nairobi], April 27).
The Somali government of President Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad condemned the threats, noting al-Shabaab’s opposition to government efforts to implement shari’a in Somalia. Somali Minister of Commerce Abdirashid Irro Muhammad said, "Really, we are very sorry and we condemn such actions. Kenya is our neighbor state and our brotherly country, and they have their own constitution. So there is no reason that al-Shabaab should attack them and endorse the Shari’a law… They are getting orders from the outside Islamic world and really they are not interested whether we will implement the Shari’a law or not” (VOA, April 28). So far, al-Shabaab has not commented on the alleged threats, nor has the Kenyan government released the text of the warning.
The chairman of al-Shabaab’s “Islamic administration” in Gedo, Shaykh Isma’il Adan Haji, recently attacked the government’s introduction of shari’a, describing it as an “apostate regime’s” unacceptable attempt to “dupe the people” (Shabelle Media Network, April 26).
Kenya has received threats from al-Shabaab before, in connection with its provision of military training for Somali government troops, its practice of extraditing Somali nationals to Ethiopia for questioning by U.S. intelligence services and its declared intention to send a battalion of Kenyan troops to join the undermanned African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) (see Terrorism Focus, November 26, 2008).
Fighting between ethnic Somali clans in the Mandera region of Kenya’s North-Eastern Province intensified last fall. Kenyan intelligence sources claimed that the arms and funding that the rival groups were receiving from allies across the Somali border constituted a threat to national security (NTV [Nairobi], October 30, 2008; see Terrorism Focus, November 5, 2008).
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