Friday, October 29, 2004

Pakistan: "Jaishul Muslameen" - a new Taliban off-shoot

Afghan police stands guard next to a vehicle belonging to the UN, from which three foreign workers were kidnapped, in Kabul October 28, 2004. Three foreigners helping to organize Afghanistan's first presidential election were kidnapped by a gang of armed men in Kabul, triggering a huge manhunt by Afghan security and international peacekeepers.

The group, calling itself the Army of Muslims, contacted an Islamabad-based correspondent from the Arabic Al-Jazeera satellite station less than four hours after the afternoon abduction to claim responsibility. "Fighters from the Army of Muslims have kidnapped the three UN workers," said the group's commander, Syed Akbar Agha, without making any demands.The Pakistani religious leader said Mullah Omar, the leader of the hardline Islamic Taliban group who has been on the run since US-led forces overthrew his regime in late 2001, had established the Army of Muslims. "Jaishul Muslameen (Army of Muslims) is the new military wing of the Taliban. It is headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar," said the leader, who had close links with the ousted regime
Army of Muslims is Taliban's new armed wing: Pakistani religious leader

The group claiming to be behind the abduction of three foreign UN election workers in Afghanistan on Thursday is the new military wing of the Taliban, a senior Pakistani religious leader told AFP.

The group, calling itself the Army of Muslims, contacted an Islamabad-based correspondent from the Arabic Al-Jazeera satellite station less than four hours after the afternoon abduction to claim responsibility.

"Fighters from the Army of Muslims have kidnapped the three UN workers," said the group's commander, Syed Akbar Agha, without making any demands.

The Pakistani religious leader said Mullah Omar, the leader of the hardline Islamic Taliban group who has been on the run since US-led forces overthrew his regime in late 2001, had established the Army of Muslims.

"Jaishul Muslameen (Army of Muslims) is the new military wing of the Taliban. It is headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar," said the leader, who had close links with the ousted regime.

"It has been assigned the task of conducting military operations against occupying forces (in Afghanistan), targeting foreign non-governmental organisations and people associated with them."

The three hostages are a woman with dual British-Irish nationality, a woman from Kosovo and a Filipino man, all of whom were working with the United Nations on Afghanistan's historic October 9 presidential election.

The trio were abducted just as the joint UN-Afghan election commission announced counting in the historic vote had ended, giving a landslide win to US-backed interim president Hamid Karzai.

The Pakistani religious leader, who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity, said Omar had established the Army of Muslims to serve solely as the Taliban's military wing, freeing up the Taliban to be used as a political entity.

"Omar wants to keep Taliban purely as a political name and jihad (holy war) will be done in the name of this military wing," said the man, who still has some contact with the Taliban.

"They are all united in the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar... they are mostly made up of trained Taliban fighters and former commanders."

Karzai has previously said he is willing to accept moderate Taliban elements into Afghan politics.

The Pakistani religious leader said he did not know if the Army of Muslims was responsible for the abductions, but he was confident it was behind recent attacks on US military forces in Afghanistan's insurgency-hit southeast.

The US military said in a statement that three US troops and an Afghan soldier were injured in a roadside bomb attack on Wednesday in the southeastern province of Zabul.

"They were responsible for the attack on the American convoy in Zabul, destroying several US tanks," the religious leader said, warning they were a growing threat.

"It is difficult to assess their exact strength but most former fighters have joined the organisation. We will hear more of their activities in days to come," he said.

The Taliban movement originated from Pakistani madrassas and rose to power in Afghanistan in 1996 allegedly on the back of Pakistani military and intelligence support.

Pakistan withdrew its official recognition of the Taliban regime after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, but its remnants still operate from the wild western Pakistani tribal areas that border Afghanistan.

Space War 29/10/2004