The Taliban has released a statement concerning the recent capture of two Haqqani Network leaders, claiming that the Afghan government has lied about the circumstances surrounding the raid that netted them. The Taliban also claims that the pair had recently visited the senior Taliban leaders freed from Guantanamo earlier this year.
The Taliban’s statement could not be independently verified.
On Oct. 16, the Afghan government announced the capture of Anas Haqqani, who is the youngest son of veteran jihadist leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, and Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari, the network’s military commander for southeastern Afghanistan. They were detained on Oct. 14.
Omari is the younger brother of Mohammad Nabi Omari, a senior Taliban official who was held at Guantanamo from late 2002 until May when he, along four other Taliban commanders held in US custody, were exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The “Taliban Five,” as they’ve been dubbed in the US, were transferred to Qatar, where they are supposed to live for one year after their release.
The Taliban says in its statement that the younger Omari had recently met with his more infamous older brother in Qatar.
According to the Taliban, Anas Haqqani had been in Qatar as well. Anas Haqqani was captured after “he embarked on his first foreign visit to meet the freed Guantanamo detainees after an invitation by the family of Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi Omari (former Guantanamo detainee).”
The Taliban claims that Omari and Haqqani were “returning home on 12th October after spending about a week.” They were both allegedly “captured by the American forces in Bahrain from where they were sent back to Qatar and then handed over to Kabul via United Arab Emirates.”
Relying on this version of events, the Taliban criticizes the US, arguing that it had no justification for detaining the two and that the Taliban Five were promised their family members would be allowed to visit them without interference.
The Afghan government’s description of the pair’s capture was entirely different, saying that the two were detained by intelligence officials in Afghanistan’s national directorate of security (NDS). There was no mention of the US first detaining them.
The Taliban also seeks to downplay the significance of Anas Haqqani in its statement, whereas the Afghan government says he played a prominent role in the Haqqani Network.
Anas Haqqani was merely “a Talib-ul-ilm (student) in his last year of studies who does not have an affiliation with any current political movements,” according to the Taliban.
The Afghan government describes Anas as an influential jihadist and deputy to his older brother, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who leads the Haqqani Network. Anas has “special” computer skills and “was considered one of the masterminds of this network in making propaganda through social networks,” the NDS said, according to Khaama Press. Anas “was responsible for collecting and preparing funds from Arabic countries to carry out operations of this network.”
The latter accusation is especially intriguing, as Qatar is a known hotbed for jihadist fundraising.
The Afghan government says that Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari was “a shadow governor” for the Haqqanis in “the Ismailkhil district of Khost province.” He also oversaw suicide bombing operations.
A Haqqani leader who served multiple roles prior to detention at Guantanamo
The Taliban says that the family of Mohammad Nabi Omari, the ex-Guantanamo detainee, invited Anas Haqqani to Qatar. US officials found that Mohammad Omari was a well-connected Haqqani leader who worked with al Qaeda prior to his detention in Sept. 2002.
In a leaked memo dated Jan. 23, 2008, JTF-GTMO analysts recommended that the older Omari brother be held in “continued detention” by the Defense Department. Omari “was a senior Taliban official who served in multiple leadership roles,” according to JTF-GTMO. Omari “had strong operational ties to Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) groups including al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), some of whom remain active in ACM activities.”
Intelligence reports cited by JTF-GTMO indicate that Omari was a “member of a joint al Qaeda/Taliban ACM cell in Khowst and was involved in attacks against US and Coalition forces.” Omari also “maintained weapons caches and facilitated the smuggling of fighters and weapons.”
Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Omari worked for the Taliban’s border security and in this capacity had “access to senior Taliban commander and leader of the Haqqani Network, Jalaluddin Haqqani.” Haqqani was the Taliban Minister of Frontiers and Borders at the time and this is what gave Omari the opportunity to become Haqqani’s “close associate,” according to JTF-GTMO.
Thus, it is entirely possible that Mohammad Nabi Omari invited Jalaluddin’s son, Anas, for a visit to Qatar given the two families’ historically close ties.
One “sensitive contact” told authorities that Omari was one of “three former Taliban commanders loyal to Haqqani.”
A source cited in the JTF-GTMO file told authorities that Omari participated in a Jan. 26, 2002 “planning session to identify a new Governor of Khowst and to propose a list of members for the Khowst City Shura Council loyal to Haqqani.” Several other high-level Taliban and Haqqani officials attended the meeting. One of them “directed the group to reconvene after members discussed names with al Qaeda members in their provinces.” The leaked JTF-GTMO memo notes: “The plan was to have all personnel identified and vetted to prepare for future al Qaeda control of the area under Jalaluddin Haqqani.”
Beginning in February 2002, according to another intelligence report cited by JTF-GTMO, Omari and “three al Qaeda affiliated individuals held weekly meetings to discuss ACM plans and to coordinate Haqqani loyalists.”
Then, in July 2002, an “Afghan government employee” reported that Omari had joined “a new Khowst province ACM cell comprised of Taliban and al Qaeda commanders who had operated independently in the past.” The list of cell members provided by this source included not only Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, but also individuals affiliated with the HIG and the Haqqani Network.
The JTF-GTMO file includes an intriguing detail about one member of Nabi’s cell – a Haqqani money courier named Malik Khan. “Ayman al Zawahiri, the number two leader of al Qaeda” at the time, and now al Qaeda’s emir, “has stayed at Khan’s compound located outside Miram Shah,” Pakistan.
In August 2002, Omari reportedly helped two al Qaeda operatives smuggle “an unknown number of missiles along the highway between Jalalabad and Peshawar,” Pakistan. The missiles were smuggled in pieces, with the intent of rebuilding them for attacks near the Jalalabad airport. On Aug. 28, 2002, JTF-GTMO analysts noted, “two Americans were killed during attacks against the Khowst, Gardez, and Jalalabad airports.”
Omari was captured in September 2002, detained at Bagram, and then transferred to Guantanamo. Omari was transferred to Qatar earlier this year and, if the Taliban’s statement is accurate, then he has been hosting other veteran jihadists.