KABUL: Afghan forces have killed a top Al Qaeda militant wanted by the United States, as the government on Sunday accused the Taliban of still keeping close ties with the militant group.
Abu Muhsin al-Masri, an Egyptian national believed to be the group’s number two in the subcontinent, was targeted in eastern Ghazni province, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said in a statement.
The National Directorate of Security did not provide details about the operation or when it was carried out.
Masri’s killing was an indication of the relationship between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Masoud Andarabi claimed on Sunday without providing details.
“The killing of one of the key Al Qaeda members, al-Masri, by the National Directorate of Security demonstrates close ties of the Taliban with the terrorist groups that are operating against the Afghan government and its people,” he tweeted.
“They still keep close relations with the terrorist groups and they are lying to different sides.”
In a landmark deal with the United States in February, the Taliban agreed to not allow Afghan soil to be used by foreign extremists including Al Qaeda, in return for Washington withdrawing its troops from the country.
Masri, who also goes by the name Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf, is on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.
A US warrant for his arrest was issued in December 2018 after he was charged with providing support and resources to a foreign terrorist organisation and plotting to kill US nationals, according to the FBI.
A source at the Afghan intelligence agency, who did not want to be named, said that an aide to Masri who was “in contact with the Taliban” was also detained during the operation in Ghazni province, a volatile region where Taliban fighters are very active.
Journalist and analyst Rahimullah Yousufzai said Masri was largely unknown but his killing showed that such militants still existed. “This incident shows that Al Qaeda’s men are few and far between, but they are still there,” he said.
Masri was from the second tier of Al Qaeda which kept him largely unknown, according to a source with a militant group.
Meanwhile, the death toll from a bomb blast claimed by the militant Islamic State (IS) group at a higher education centre in Kabul rose to 24 on Sunday — most of them students.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said another 57 people had been wounded in Saturday’s attack in a western district of the capital.
Students were seen on Sunday morning salvaging books from nearby accommodation that was damaged by the blast.
The explosion happened when about 800 students were studying at the centre, Baqir Rahimi, who survived the incident, said. “I had just entered the classroom when the blast occurred and it was loud and deafening,” the teenager said.
“There were screams and cries for help. I rushed to the entrance gate of the centre and saw bodies lying on the ground.”
Residents in several districts of western Kabul belong to the minority Shia Hazara community, and are often targeted by extremists of IS.
The violence rages in Afghanistan as peace talks continue in Qatar between the Taliban and the Afghan government in a bid to end the country’s long-running war.
Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2020