Osama bin Laden’s son visited Afghanistan in Oct, held meetings with Taliban: UN report
Foreign terror groups ranging from al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) enjoy more freedom in Afghanistan than in recent years, and Osama bin Laden’s son visited the country in October for meetings with the Taliban, according to a new UN report.
The latest report of the UN Security Council on activities of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda and their affiliates, made public this week, said the Taliban have not done anything to limit the activities of foreign terrorists – an assertion that will strengthen suspicions about the setup in Kabul in capitals around the world.
The UN’s analytical support and sanctions monitoring team prepares such reports twice a year as part of efforts to implement sanctions imposed on Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The report said al-Qaeda was maintaining a “strategic silence” after congratulating the Taliban on its victory on August 31 last year, apparently “not to compromise Taliban efforts to gain international recognition and legitimacy”.
“The security landscape in Afghanistan changed dramatically on 15 August, when the Taliban took control of the country. There are no recent signs that the Taliban has taken steps to limit the activities of foreign terrorist fighters in the country,” the report said.
“On the contrary, terrorist groups enjoy greater freedom there than at any time in recent history,” it said, adding that UN member states have not reported “significant new movements of foreign terrorist fighters to Afghanistan”.
Al-Qaeda continues to “recover from a series of leadership losses and is assessed to lack the capability to conduct high-profile attacks overseas, which remains its long-term goal”, the report concluded.
“One Member State reported that Bin Laden’s son, Abdallah (not listed), visited Afghanistan in October for meetings with the Taliban. [Current al-Qaeda chief] Aiman al-Zawahiri was reported alive as recently as January 2021, but Member States continue to believe that he is in poor health,” the report said.
Amin Muhammad ul-Haq Saam Khan, who coordinated security for slain al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, also returned to his home in Afghanistan in late August.
AQIS, which is led by Osama Mehmood and his deputy Atif Yahya Ghouri, “retains a presence in Afghanistan, in the Provinces of Ghazni, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, Paktika and Zabul, where the group fought alongside the Taliban” against the ousted government of Ashraf Ghani.
AQIS is estimated to have between 200 and 400 fighters, mainly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and Pakistan, the report said.
In a worrying development, UN member states have assessed that the strength of the Islamic State-Khorasan Province has risen from 2,200 to nearly 4,000, mainly because of the “release of several thousand prisoners” at the time when the Taliban swept to power. One UN member state assessed that up to half of ISKP is composed of foreign terrorist fighters.
“Although the group controls limited territory in eastern Afghanistan, it is capable of conducting high-profile and complex attacks, such as the 27 August bombing at Kabul airport, in which more than 180 people were killed, and several subsequent attacks,” the report said.
The Taliban view ISKP as their “primary kinetic threat, as the group aims to position itself as the chief rejectionist force in Afghanistan, with a wider regional agenda threatening neighbouring Central and South Asian countries”.
The report added: “Member States estimated that, if Afghanistan descends into chaos, some Afghan and foreign extremists may shift allegiances to ISIL-K, which continues to be led by Sanaullah Ghafari (alias Shahab alMuhajir), an Afghan national.”
Central Asian terror groups Islamic Jihad Group (IJG), Khatiba Imam al-Bukhari (KIB) and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which actively participated in fighting alongside the Taliban, are “now experiencing greater freedom of movement in the country”.
The report said Central Asian embassies based in Kabul had “observed with concern that several leaders of those groups have travelled freely to Kabul”. IJG, led by Ilimbek Mamatov, was assessed to be the “most combat-ready Central Asian group in Afghanistan”, and it operates primarily in Badakhshan, Baghlan and Kunduz provinces.
However, the report concluded that the Taliban have acted to rein in the anti-China terror group Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), also known as Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).
“Some Member States reported that, following the Taliban’s return to power,
ETIM/TIP fighters were relocated from their traditional stronghold in Badakhshan
Province, on the border with China, to Baghlan, Takhar and other provinces, as part of the Taliban’s efforts to both protect and restrain the group,” the report said.
ETIM’s strength was estimated at between 200 and 700 fighters, and the group is active in military training and planning terrorist attacks against Chinese interests. “ETIM/TIP members have been encouraged to strengthen their ties to Afghanistan by becoming refugees or Afghan citizens, as a means of more deeply entrenching the group in the country,” the report said.
ETIM members “frequently visited the Wakhan corridor, calling for a ‘return to Xinjiang for jihad’”. The group closely collaborates with al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and Jamaat Ansarullah to plan attacks on Chinese interests in Pakistan, Tajikistan and elsewhere, the report said.