Quelle: THE AZZAM BRIGADES Jane's Intelligence Review April 1, 1995 SECTION: MIDDLE EAST; Vol. 7; No. 4; Pg. 175
Arab Veterans of the Afghan War
By James Bruce
James Bruce is a journalist who has covered the Middle East for more than 20 years.
Across North Africa, into the Arabian Peninsula, and even beyond into Asia, there is a new cutting edge to the Islamic revolution hundreds of battle hardened Muslim zealots who were once trained, armed and funded by Western agencies as well as some of the very Arab states which they now threaten. They are veterans of the long war fought by the mojahedin of Afghanistan against the regime in Kabul from 1979 to 1991.These 'Afghans', not all of whom saw combat, now include some 5000 Saudis, 3000 Yemenis, 2000 Egyptians, 2800 Algerians, 400 Tunisians, 370 Iraqis, 200 Libyans, and scores of Jordanians. They operate as far afield as China, Kashmir, the Philippines and Tajikistan. Events in Bosnia indicates that Europe is not precluded; the hijacking in December 1994 of the Air France Airbus A 300 at Algiers airport underlines the extent to which the Islamists are prepared to go to internationalize their campaign.
It is likely that there would have been Islamic eruptions whether there had been Arab veterans of the Afghan war or not. But what is undeniable is that these combat experienced zealots have given the fundamentalists a powerful arm that they would not otherwise have had.
The main thrust of the Islamic revolution is currently in Algeria. The bloody civil war that erupted there in January 1992 when the army denied power to the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) is spearheaded by the 'Afghans'. There are an estimated 1000 1500 of them and they form the core of the hard line fundamentalists.The FIS has an armed wing, the Movement Islamic Army (MIA). The MIA appears to be increasingly split, with hardliners seeking to join forces with the radical Group Islamic Army (GIA) which has been primarily responsible for the killing of scores of foreigners and Algerian intellectuals in and around the capital.
The MIA, on the other hand, largely confines its attacks to military and government targets. The western and eastern regions of Algeria are the domain of the MIA, while the GIA is strongest around Algiers. The GIA is ted by the 'Afghans'. A key qualifications for any leader is that he must take part in operations in the field; this has drastically lowered the commander's life expectancy. One of the GIA's early leaders was Tayeb al Afghani, nom de guerre of an Afghan veteran and a former smuggler. He became a symbol of the 'Afghans' and fundamentalism in Algeria until he was captured after an attack on a police station at al Gummar in southeastern Algeria in November 1992.
That triggered a wider war, pitting the fundamentalists against the Algerian army. A subsequent leader was Sid Ahmed Mourad, alias Jaafar el Afghani, who had also fought in Afghanistan. However, he was killed by security forces in March 1994 after succeeding Abdelhak Layada; the latter was arrested in Morocco in June 1993 and extradited to Algeria where he remains in detention. Another commander was Sherif Gousmi, known as Abu Abdallah Ahmed, yet again an Afghan veteran. He was killed by security forces in September 1994, aged 26. Before taking over the GIA, he was believed to have been the leader of the Kataeb al Mout death squads; these specialized in assassinations, including those of government officials and several French citizens. Another GIA leader is Ahmed Bounoua; he was expelled from France in August 1992 and is a member of the movement's Overseas Executive Council.Kamar Kharban, a former Algerian army officer who became a mojahedin commander in Afghanistan, is a key FIS leader and regularly visits Germany where the FIS has an infrastructure and gun running network in Aachen, Berlin,Hamburg and Munich.
The chief FIS spokesman in Europe is Rabah Kabir, who sought asylum there in 1992. Kabir and Usama Madani, one of the sons of imprisoned FIS leader Abbas Madani, were arrested in Germany in June 1993 following an attempt to assassinate Algerian leader Houari Boumedienne in August 1992 in Algiers. They were released in September 1993 even though Algeria has issued international arrest warrants for them. Although German authorities did not send Kabir and Madani back to Algeria, it has been keeping them under surveillance since Germans in Algeria were threatened. Kabir was named president of the Islamic government in exile proclaimed in September 1993, with Kharban as his deputy. Kharban was expelled from France on 17 August 1992, apparently after issuing death threats against Algeria's ruling council. The FIS claimed in September 1994 that it had opened an information office in Washington. The GIA has a propaganda infrastructure in Poland where its newsletter, Jihad News, is published. At one time, it was edited by Abdallah Anas, son in law of Abdallah Azzam, a Palestinian scholar and member of the Muslim Brotherhood who, with Saudi help, was a seminal organizer for the recruitment of Arab volunteers to fight in Afghanistan. Many were from the USA, a link which would be influential in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. He was killed in a mysterious car bomb in Peshawar in November 1989 and is widely revered among the 'Afghan International'. Other splinter groups are emerging in Algeria, most of them hard line, anti Western radicals. One such group is the Organization of Free Islamic Youth, blamed for the murder of Islamic moderates who advocated dialogue between the FIS and the government; another is the Movement of the Islamic State
Egypt, too, is locked in a war with Islamic fundamentalists who include several hundred 'Afghan' guerrillas. The main group is led by Mohammed Shawky al Islambouli brother of the fundamentalist army lieutenant, Khalid al Islambouli, who led the group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in October 1981 and Ayman Zawahiry. Al Islambouli was sentenced to death in absentia by an Egyptian court in December 1992 for plotting to overthrow the Mubarak government and assassinate Egyptian leaders. He has a base in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, and Hekmayat's power base. Jamaat al Islamiya still has some 200 men there today.
In 1990, al Islambouli was host in Pakistan to Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman who is now on trial in the USA for alleged involvement in the World Trade Center bombing and other attacks. Both Abdel Rahman's sons fought in Afghanistan. Mahmoud Abouhalima, an Egyptian Afghan veteran, allegedly planned the World Trade Center attack and trained others to carry it out. Another 'Afghan', Ahmad Ajaj, entered the USA on a false Pakistani passport, carrying bomb making manuals and other mafor the bombers. A third man, Sudanese Siddig Ibrahim Siddiq Ali, was with Abouhalima in Afghanistan in 1988 90.
An Egyptian scholar who knew them there said they were 'very good commanders who fought in various provinces'. US authorities believe there may be as many as 200 Arab 'Afghans' in the New York New Jersey area alone. They are all viewed as potential terrorists in the aftermath of the bombing of the World Trade Center.
Another key fugitive is Ibrahim el Mekkawi, a prominent fundamentalist who fled Egypt after Sadat's assassination. Authorities in Cairo claim he is directing the Islamic campaign in Egypt from Pakistan. A former army colonel, he travels between Peshawar and Afghanistan where he maintains training camps and other bases. One of his lieutenants is Mahmoud el Sabbawy; he lost his right leg fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. In a recent interview in Pakistan, el Mekkawi said that 'it would be easy to overthrow the government' in Cairo. 'But what comes next is more complicated' because the fundamentalists are aware that they still do not have enough support among the Egyptian officer corps to control the country after a coup. One of his men, a Palestinian known by his nom de guerre of Abu Boaz, said it may take another decade for the fundamentalists to topple Arab governments. But he remains optimistic, because 'the young generation in the Islamic world is coming out of its stupor'. Authorities in Cairo claim that wealthy Gulf Arabs provide funding for militant Islamic zealots spearheaded by the 'Afghans' in Egypt and other Arab states, while Iran guides and directs their activities. Saudi Arabia and its allies deny they are involved in any way. There is no evidence that Tehran is directly involved in these campaigns, but they do coincide with the Islamic republic's policy of undermining secular Arab governments.
The fundamentalist regime held a major conference of Islamic groups in Iran in February 1993, allocated funds and discussed strategic aims. The Iranians, who funded Shiite mojahedin factions in Afghanistan, are also deeply involved in Islamic Sudan which the governments of Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia accuse of training and aiding fundamentalists. Soon after the Tehran conference, Algeria and Egypt were hit by waves of assassinations and kidnappings reminiscent of the operations conducted by Tehran backed Shiites in Lebanon between 1983 and the end of the civil war there in 1990. Cairo security authorities claim there is a link between the Gulf financiers and Iran's intelligence services. Among the financiers is Osama bin Laden and his brother Khaled, whose family made a vast fortune in Saudi Arabia in the construction industry over the last two decades. He is a key figure behind the 'Afghan International'. Bin Laden founded the Islamic Salvation Foundation in Saudi Arabia through which he financed initially the Afghan mojahedin, later extending that to radical Islamic groups around the Arab world. The Saudis denied that bin Laden and others were involved. Nonetheless, in April 1994, the Saudis revoked bin Laden's nationality an extremely rare occurrence and his family, originally from the south Yemen province of Hadhramaut and one of the richest in Saudi Arabia, publicly disowned him. Bin Laden is now based in Sudan, under the protection of the Islamic government there and its spiritual leader, Hassan al Tourabi. He has recently opened an office in London and, despite the Saudi government's actions, still has access to large amounts of money held in foreign banks.
In recent months, Pakistan has been hunting down Arab 'Afghans' at the request of Cairo and Algiers. It signed an extradition agreement with Egypt in March 1994 to return wanted 'Afghans', among the 1200 believed still in Pakistan. Islamabad's efforts have stemmed largely from its desire to avoid being branded by the US State Department as a country that sponsors terrorism, which automatically disqualifies it from US economic aid. It has sought to close organizations supposedly helping refugees but which are suspected fronts for Islamic radicals. Senior Pakistani officials argue that the long trail of arms and ideologically motivated Islamic activists cannot be eliminated easily. It is indeed a daunting task, and there has been considerable opposition inside Pakistan itself, including high ranking military officers such as Lieutenant General Javed Nasir, who headed the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI) during the Afghan war and co ordinated with Western agencies, the Saudis and others the establishment of mojahedin forces as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism.
The Pakistanis, anxious to be seen as not supporting terrorism as the extremist tide spread, scored a major coup in February 1995 by arresting Ramzi Ashmed Yousef, an Iraqi born 'Afghan' and alleged mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing. They handed him over to the US authorities who flew him back to New York to stand trial. Western intelligence authorities believe that Yousef was also involved in an attempt to blow up the Israeli embassy in Bangkok with a car bomb in March 1994 and a plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II in the Philippines in January.
There are suspicions that the primary target in the Philippines may have been to plant a bomb aboard a US airliner. In May 1994, Pakistani authorities began deporting wanted Egyptians. The first was 26 year old Ali Eid, suspected of belonging to an outlawed Islamic group, the Vanguards of Conquest, a revival of the Jihad movement that was responsible for Sadat's assassination. The government claimed Eid left Egypt in 1990 for military training in Peshawar. The Egyptians have hanged scores of convicted militants, including members of the Vanguard, who were blamed for the attempted assassinations of Interior Minister Hassan el Alfy in August 1993 and Prime Minister Atef Sedki in November 1993.
Hassan el Alfy claimed that the extremists who ambushed Sedki's limousine in Cairo with a remote controlled bomb were 'highly trained in Afghanistan in the use of explosive materials'. During the Afghan war, the Egyptian Jamaat al Islamiya detachment was particularly respected for its military skills and reckless courage. With a strength of around 300 men at its peak, this contingent, which included Abdel Rahman's two sons, fought mainly in Nangarhar province in eastern Pakistan, controlled largely by Hezb i Islami. Here, large numbers of the foreign volunteers were deployed. Several hundred are still believed to be in eastern Afghanistan under the protection of Hekmayat, the fundamentalist guerrilla leader who is now the country's prime minister. The 'Afghans' expelled from Pakistan under pressure from Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and the USA are often fugitives in their homelands. So many go to Iran, from where they are able to get to Sudan or northern Iraq. Here, Kurdish Islamic groups accommodate them until they are filtered out to other countries in the Arab world.
Many go to Yemen where the fundamentalist al Islah, or Islamic Reform Party, provides shelter. The party, deeply rooted in the powerful Hashed tribal confederation in northern Yemen and headed by the firebrand Sheikh Abdul Mejid Az Zindani, encourages them to settle in Yemen where there has been an upsurge in Islamic action in recent months. Much of it has been directed at the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) which is now largely discredited because of the secessionist efforts of its former leaders during the civil war in mid 1994. Many 'Afghans' fought on the side of the Islamic backed San'a government during that conflict against what they considered the Godless Marxists of the YSP. Yemen was a key source of manpower for the 'Afghans'. From 1984 until the end of the decade, Az Zindani sent between 5000 and 7000 Arabs, including Yemenis, to Afghanistan and Pakistan via Saudi Arabia for military training and religious teaching under his guidance. When the Yemenis returned home after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, they made no secret of their new sense of mission to eradicate from the former South Yemen all remnants of the one Marxist regime. The San'a government has started to crack down on local 'Afghans' even though they supported President Ali Saleh during the recent civil war. The hard line 'Afghans' recently attacked shrines of the mystical Sufi sect which Yemen's Zaidi Muslims consider heretics. A group of members of the Yemen Islamic Jihad organization, including several 'Afghans', were imprisoned in Aden in early 1994 for bombing two hotels there in December 1992. The group has been funded in the past by bin Laden. Until Pakistan started getting tough with the foreign 'Afghans', Az Zindani frequently visited Peshawar. So did Rashid el Gannouchi, exiled leader of Tunisia's outlawed Nahda fundamentalist party. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in Tunisia for plotting to overthrow and assassinate President Zine al Abedine ben Ali. Based in London, he travels on a Sudanese diplomatic passport and frequently visits Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Another important 'Afghan' is Mohammed Nazzal, a computer expert who studied in Pakistan and is now a leader of Hamas, the Palestinian fundamentalist faction. Nazzal is based in Amman. Here, the 'Afghans' are largely clandestine and have links with Hamas and Islamic Jihad Palestine. They formed the Jaish Mohammed, or Mohammed's Army, in 1991 and planned to launch a campaign of terrorist bombings and assassinations aimed at toppling the Hashemite throne, including kidnapping one of King Hussain's younger sons, Prince Abdullah. Several were imprisoned after a series of bombings, and 11 were sentenced to death on 21 December 1994. Three others were convicted in absentia, including bin Laden's son in law, Mohammed Khalifa. Sudan, a cradle of fundamentalism, now has an Islamic alliance with Iran and, according to Western and Arab intelligence sources, harbours large numbers of Muslim extremists from all around the Middle East, including hundreds of 'Afghans' who have not yet been able to return to their home countries. In Eritrea, probably the only country in the Horn of Africa not embroiled in conflict, President Isayas Afewerki alleged in early 1994 that armed Islamic militants based in Sudan were seeking to destabilize his fledgling state. After 20 were reportedly killed in a border gun battle, he claimed that many were Arab 'Afghans' from Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan and Tunisia. (Alhamdulillah, the Jihad in Eritrea has been going on for numerous years now, but has been subject to an international news blockage, Azzam Publications)
Arab 'Afghans' are in Bosnia helping fellow Muslims fight the Christian Serbs. Between 200 and 300 of these veterans, including non Arab Muslims, are based in Zenica where they are widely feared. The number of non Bosnian Muslims in the military is estimated at between 500 and 1000 from a dozen countries in the Middle East. From all accounts, they have fought with some distinction. Some 300 'Afghans', organized into a unit known as 'the Guerrillas', operate with the Bosnian 3rd Corps in Zenica. Algerian FIS leader Kamar Kharban, a veteran of the Afghan war, has visited Bosnia several times over the last two years. The 'Afghans' and other Muslim volunteers have also been a source of friction with the Bosnians who are largely secular Muslims. The outsiders' religious zeal and arrogant commitment to their holy war has angered their hosts. However, many of the volunteers represent wealthy Islamic organizations or countries whose support the beleaguered Bosnians count on. 'Afghans' are believed to have been behind the murder of British aid worker Paul Goodall on 27 January 1994 near Zenica. Three Muslim volunteers, all Arabs carrying fake Pakistani passports, were later shot dead by Bosnian military police at a roadblock near Sarajevo. Three others were arrested by police for questioning in the murder. The Al Kifah, or 'Struggle', Refugee Center in New York, which used to recruit and raise funds for mojahedin going to Afghanistan, last year announced it was switching its operations to Bosnia. It was established in the mid 1980s by Egyptian Mustafa Rahman as a joint venture with Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, spiritual leader of Jamaat al Islamiya. Afghans have also been identified fighting alongside their Muslim brothers in the breakaway republic of Chechnia against the Russians. The Chechen capital, Groznyy, became a key transit point for Arab veterans of the Afghan war after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Russians could well now become targets for the 'Afghans'.
Some Arab 'Afghans' have
even been reported in the Muslim provinces of
western China. One of Sheikh Abdel Rahman's sons
has been reported to be leading Arab 'Afghans'
with Islamic guerrillas in Tajikistan fighting
their old enemies, the Russians, who are propping
up the former communist regime there. Other Arab
veterans are in the Philippines with the extremist
Muslim Abu Sayyaf faction named after an Afghan
mojahedin hero waging a war of terror on the
Manila government in the struggle for Muslim self
rule in the Mindanao region. The Abu Sayyaf
faction is a hard line splinter group of the main
Muslim movement, the Moro National Liberation
Front, and launched its own campaign when Moro
began peace negotiations with Manila in 1992. The
Abu Sayyaf group was responsible for a string of
bombings, assassinations and kidnappings of
priests, businessmen and doctors between September
1992 and June 1994, including the massacre of 15
Christians in the southern Philippines. The group
broke new ground, like their Algerian comrades'
hijacking in December 1994, by bombing Philippines
Airlines Boeing 747 on a flight from Manila to
Tokyo the same month. A Japanese passenger was
killed and six other people wounded, but the
aircraft landed safely at Okinawa with a 60 cm
hole in the cabin floor. It is likely that Ramzi
Ahmed Yousef, the alleged mastermind of the World
Trade Center bombing, was in contact with the Abu
Sayyaf group when he was in Manila during the
Pope's visit in January before his fateful journey
to Pakistan. Indian security authorities say they
have killed or captured a score of Arab and other
foreign veterans of the Afghan war fighting with
Muslim guerrillas in disputed Kashmir where
Pakistan, their old patron, is active in fomenting
rebellion among the Muslims. They are also
providing them with weapons, including large
amounts of arms originally provided by the
Americans and their allies for the mojahedin in
Afghanistan. The Indians say they have learned the
names of 50 Arab guerrillas from the captured men.
The wave of Islamic extremism sweeping the Middle East is increasingly deep rooted. It is fuelled by not only the attempts to suppress it by the governments concerned but also the growing belief among the Muslim populations of the region that long ignored political and economic reforms can only be squeezed out of the regimes in power, not obtained by negotiation. The fundamentalist creed also believes that the secular Arab governments must first be overthrown before the greater enemy, the West, can be tackled. As the situation in Algeria disintegrates, all the signs point to a prolonged war of attrition in which the country could be split, if the government does not collapse first. It is considered inconceivable that the Islamic guerrillas can be crushed, while they are not militarily strong enough to defeat the army. If the turmoil spreads from Algeria and Egypt to Tunisia and Morocco, and there are already signs of Islamic fervour in these states, it could eventually produce a hostile Islamic bloc on the southern shore of the Mediterranean that would have serious implications for western and southern Europe.
The Air France hijacking by the Algerian GIA in December and the gunmen's reported plan to turn the commandeered Airbus into a flying bomb to explode over Paris, added a menacing new dimension for Europe to the Algerian conflict. An Islamic victory in North Africa would also have potentially critical consequences for Israel which increasingly perceives militant Islam to be its main adversary. Beyond Israel too lie the Arab monarchies of Jordanand the Gulf, as well as Syria. So far, Damascus has had little trouble from its fundamentalists who were brutally crushed by President Assad's socialist regime in the early 1980s. It is interesting, to say the least, that Assad, scourge of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, is now allowing mosques to be built all over Damascus.
The Arab Israeli peace process vehemently opposed by Iran and its surrogates in the Arab world will undoubtedly spawn fresh expectations, and that, in the absence of conflict, standards of living will improve and democratic reforms emerge. When those reforms do not appear, Islamic fundamentalism, which has now eclipsed the discredited and obsolete notion of secular pan Arab nationalism, will be where Arab Muslims will turn.
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HAMAS (Islamic Resistance Movement)
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