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Inside a Taliban terrorism class

Stepped up attacks in Afghanistan may be a sign of well-trained graduates searching for soft targets.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 6, 2003



KHOST, AFGHANISTAN

By his own reckoning, Ahmed Gul was a pretty good student of terrorism. During Taliban times, he learned to lay mines, plant bombs, kidnap enemies, fire Chinese rockets - and to blend into the general population as, say, a simple Afghan farmer.

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Mr. Gul is one of 425 members of the class of 1998 at the Mechanical High School here who took what the Taliban called the "Khas Turesti Course," or Special Course in Terrorism. Students who finished the class were usually deployed immediately to combat their chief foe at the time, Ahmad Shah Masood's Northern Alliance.

"The main purpose of the course was to make a strong group of terrorists within the framework of Islam," says Gul, who asked that his name be changed. "The people who had been working with the Taliban from the beginning, they chose the students for the Special Course in Terrorism. We students had to be more religious than others."

Kept secret by Afghan officials until recently, the terrorism course in Khost is a sign of how far the former regime was willing to go in fighting what it considered to be enemies of Islam. The Taliban delved deeply and enthusiastically into terrorism - offering training in everything from Hamas-style marketplace bombings to kidnapping and assassination. Now, perhaps hundreds of terrorist alumni may be practicing their skills against US and allied forces - even against foreign aid workers - across vast, unstable portions of southern Afghanistan.

"We don't know completely where [Islamic militants] are getting their weapons, but they are very well trained," says Gen. Khial Baz Sherzai, military chief of Khost and commander of the 25th Land Force.

"The question is why they don't put mines in crowded cities to kill many people," says General Sherzai. "Here in Khost, we have increased our soldiers in the cities, so all they can do is put their bombs away from the city." But in other cities like Kabul, he says, the potential for terrorist attacks may be greater.

Military officials and intelligence agents for the Afghan government say that the terrorism course appears to have begun only about a year and a half after the Taliban took power. A similar course was offered in Kabul, but the Khost class drew students from all over Afghanistan as well as instructors from Egypt, Pakistan, Libya, and Palestine. Prominent graduates include Hazratuddin Habibi, the former Taliban intelligence chief in Khost who was given the same job by the current Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Habibi was removed from his post last month on suspicion that he was supplying information to Al Qaeda.

A string of attacks in the past month shows that terrorists are remaining quite active. In Khost, there were three land-mine attacks on local residents, including the deputy chief of intelligence, who was unharmed. In other parts of the country, attacks against foreigners are on the rise: a Red Cross worker from Ecuador was pulled from his car and shot; an Italian tourist on a motorcycle tour was shot on the road from Kandahar to Kabul; and two foreign aid workers for the demining group ATC were shot at and injured along the Kabul-Jalalabad road near the town of Sarobi.

For US and Afghan military officials, these are indications that opponents of the current government of President Hamid Karzai are stepping up their efforts to find soft targets, and to increase the feelings of insecurity among the Afghan people.

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