Yesterday, the US State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program posted new rewards for five members of the Haqqani Network, the dangerous Taliban subgroup that operates in eastern, central, northern, and southern Afghanistan and is based in Pakistan.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational leader of the network, had his existing reward raised from $5 million to $10 million. This puts him in the top tier of wanted global jihadists. The other jihadists who have a $10 million reward offered for their capture are: Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, a.k.a. Abu Dua, the emir of the Islamic State; Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban; Hafiz Saeed, the head of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba; and Yasin al Suri, the chief of al Qaeda’s network in Iran. Only al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri has a higher bounty, at $25 million.
Rewards for Justice also posted new rewards of up to $5 million each for Khalil al Rahman Haqqani, Yahya Haqqani, Abdul Rauf Zakir, and Aziz Haqqani. Three of them have been designated by the US as global terrorists, and one has not been mentioned by the US in the past.
Khalil al Rahman Haqqani, Siraj’s uncle, was added to the US’ list of terrorists in February 2011. Khalil is a key fundraiser, financier, and operational commander for the Haqqani Network, and has been crucial in aiding and supporting al Qaeda’s military, the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army.
Qari Rauf Zakir, the head of the Haqqani Network’s suicide operations in Afghanistan as well as the group’s operational commander in Kabul, Takhar, Kunduz, and Baghlan provinces, was designated a global terrorist on Nov. 5, 2012. Zakir is considered to be a close advisor to Siraj, and also runs the network’s training program.
Yahya Haqqani, a senior leader who has served as acting emir as well as a key financier and logistician, was designated on Feb. 5, 2014. He has close ties to al Qaeda, and often serves as a liaison with al Qaeda operatives in the region. He also supports Qari Rauf Zakir’s operations.
Unlike the other four Haqqani Network leaders, Aziz Haqqani has not been designated as a global terrorist by the US government. He is described as “Sirajuddin’s brother and is involved in logistical operations and command decisions involving cross-border attacks on ISAF and Afghan forces.”
Additionally, Aziz “also plays a key role in HQN’s [Haqqani Network’s] operations in Kabul and in major attacks throughout Afghanistan.” This means that Aziz is a senior leader in the Kabul Attack Network.
Background on the Haqqani Network
The Haqqani Network is a powerful Taliban subgroup that operates primarily in the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika, but also has an extensive presence in Kabul, Parwan, Logar, Wardak, Ghazni, Zabul, Kandahar, Baghlan, Kunduz, and Takhar. In addition, the network has expanded its operations into the distant Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Faryab, and Kunar, according to ISAF press releases that document raids against the network. In central Afghanistan, the Haqqani Network coordinates suicide operations and complex assaults with groups such as the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda, Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, in what ISAF used to call the Kabul Attack Network.
The Haqqani Network has close links with al Qaeda, and its relationship with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID) has allowed the network to survive and thrive in its fortress stronghold of North Waziristan. The terror group has also extended its presence into the Pakistani tribal agency of Kurram.
In North Waziristan, the Haqqanis control large swaths of the tribal area and run a parallel administration with courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces. In addition, the Haqqanis have established multiple training camps and safe houses that are used by al Qaeda leaders and operatives and by Taliban foot soldiers preparing to fight in Afghanistan.
The Haqqani Network has been implicated in some of the biggest terror attacks in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, including the January 2008 suicide assault on the Serena Hotel, the February 2009 assault on Afghan ministries, and the July 2008 and October 2009 suicide attacks against the Indian Embassy.
The terror group collaborated with elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service in at least one of these attacks. American intelligence agencies have confronted the Pakistani government with evidence, including communications intercepts, which proved the ISID’s direct involvement in the 2008 Indian Embassy bombing. [See LWJ report Pakistan’s Jihad, and Threat Matrix report Pakistan backs Afghan Taliban, for additional information on the ISID’s complicity in attacks in Afghanistan and the region.]
In the summer and fall of 2011, the US and the Afghan government linked the Haqqani Network and Pakistan’s intelligence service to the June 28, 2011 assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and the Sept. 13, 2011 attack on the US Embassy and ISAF headquarters. Shortly after the September attack, Admiral Michael Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused the Haqqani Network of being one of several “[e]xtremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan.”
In May 2014, the Haqqani Network orchestrated the release of five senior Taliban commanders who were being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay. All five Taliban commanders have extensive ties to al Qaeda. The five leaders were exchanged for Bowe Bergdahl, a US soldier who abandoned his post in eastern Afghanistan and was held by the Haqqani Network for five years. The Taliban hailed the release of their five leaders as a major victory.