Thursday, November 19, 2009

Local links to master Taliban strategist

THE veteran mujaheddin leader once married to Australian woman Rabiah Hutchinson has re-emerged as a key political and military strategist for the Taliban in its insurgency in Afghanistan.

Egyptian Mustafa Hamid, also known as Abu Walid al-Misri, has authored a series of articles in the official Taliban magazine and on Islamist websites in the past two months, outlining the Taliban's push to retake Afghanistan and re-establish the Islamic Emirate overthrown by US forces in 2001.

Hamid ran al-Qa'ida's training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s and was a senior adviser to the al-Qa'ida leadership and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar in 2000-01. A hard-headed pragmatist who was often critical of al-Qa'ida's zealous ideology, Hamid fell out with the al-Qa'ida leadership over the September 11 attacks on the US and became a vehement critic of Osama bin Laden.

His re-emergence is seen by al-Qa'ida and Taliban experts as a significant development in the Afghan insurgency.

Hamid's writings are being closely monitored by former Australian Federal Police counter-terrorism expert and al-Qa'ida specialist Leah Farrall.

She says Hamid is "coming out against al-Qa'ida quite strongly in some of his responses", indicating the Taliban might be dissociating itself from al-Qa'ida as part of "trying to build itself up as a ruling party".

Hamid is living in Iran, where he fled into exile after the September 11, 2001, attacks, and where he was placed under house arrest and later imprisoned. He is believed to be under some form of detention but his whereabouts are unknown.

A prolific writer and the self-appointed historian of the jihadist movement, Hamid in 2007 began posting articles on a blog site and earlier this year began writing for official jihadist publications.

Vahid Brown, a historian at the US Military Academy at West Point, says Hamid has effectively "taken up one of his old jihadi jobs: official Taliban propogandist and media strategist" and his latest writings show he is still at odds with the al-Qa'ida leadership on a wide range of ideological and strategic issues.

Hamid is believed to have been instrumental in speeches made recently by the Taliban leadership, asserting it is a "responsible force" that has no quarrel with the West and wants to have "good neighbourly relations" in Central Asia.

The tone of these overtures is seen as signalling to the West that if the Taliban returns to power in Afghanistan, now a distinct possibility, it will not provide a new launchpad for al-Qa'ida attacks.

Hamid married Ms Hutchinson in Afghanistan in 2001. They separated after escaping to Iran amid the US bombardment of Afghanistan in late 2001. She declined to comment on his recent activities.

The Australian

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