Latest Al Qaeda recruits: Afghans seeking revenge
Al Qaeda is filling suicide squads with civilians who have lost family members to US attacks.
Haji Din Mohammad's family has been marked by two tragic acts. The first was an American bombing raid in December 2001 that killed his nephew Zeni Khel in a local mosque. The second was the murder of an American CIA agent a month later by another nephew in an act of revenge.Skip to next paragraph
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It's this eye-for-an-eye code of Mr. Mohammad's Pashtun ethnic group that Al Qaeda and its allies are exploiting to create new suicide squads in Afghanistan, say Afghan intelligence officials. They are drawing recruits from families who have suffered losses in the past year of war. With motives and methods copied from Palestinian suicide bombers, the young men pose the newest, and perhaps gravest, threat to the young government, to American aid workers, and to US troops.
"I am too old to feel revenge," says Mohammad, the family elder. "But for our youths, revenge is like an ember that burns in your heart."
He blames local mullahs for converting his pious nephew, Abdul Malik, into a murderer. "I used to tell my nephews, what happened has happened, it is in the hands of God," says the old farmer, crouching in a dry riverbed outside his house. "But they did not listen to me, they listened to the radicals, the mullahs who pump the emotions of the boys," he finishes with a sigh.
Abdul Malik may be one of dozens of young men willing to take the war in Afghanistan to a new level of danger, risking their own lives to avenge the deaths of family members for the sake of culture, family, and to a certain extent, Islam.
"The worst enmity in Afghanistan is not religious and not political, it is cultural," says Mohammad Ibrahim Mushfiq, deputy governor of Khost, referring to the Pashtun code of revenge. "The only solution is cultural. If a tribal council came with US forces to a family of a victim, and they apologized and said we are sorry for your loss, and we ask for your pardon, the family will not reject that. But if you don't do that, these families can be the most dangerous, because they are the ones who will do suicide attacks."
The December 2001 bombing of the mosque is just one action that has many Afghans upset. On Dec. 20, 2001, American bombers, tipped off by an Afghan warlord, bombed a car caravan full of Pashtun tribal leaders from the Khost region, killing 30. In May 2002, US planes bombed a mountain in Khost Province where two tribes were fighting in a land dispute, killing 10. The following month, American planes bombed a wedding party in Urozgan, killing 37, mainly women and children. In each incident, tribal councils alerted the provincial government that they intend to take revenge against US forces.
Turning angry Pashtuns into professional killers, Afghan intelligence sources say, appears to be the work of Hizb-I Islami, a Pashtun-dominated religious party that once fought against Soviet presence in Afghanistan. After the Soviet-backed Afghan government fell in 1992, Hizb-I Islami fought in a bloody civil war for control of Kabul and the national government.
When the Taliban ended the civil war in 1996, and entered Kabul, Hizb's chief, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar fled to Iran. But when America's bombing campaign began last October, Mr. Hekmatyar declared a jihad against American troops. Last month, he announced his alliance with Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Like Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden, Hekmatyar is thought to be operating both in remote parts of southeastern Afghanistan, including Khost, Paktia, and Nangrahar Provinces, and in the northeastern Konar Province, say Afghan military officials. They say he also finds refuge on the Pakistani side of the border in autonomous Pashtun tribal areas where Pakistani authorities have little control.