ARAB VETERANS OF AFGHANISTAN WAR LEAD NEW ISLAMIC HOLY
OCTOBER 28, 1994, FRIDAY
BODY: LONDON, Oct. 28 (COMPASS) - Across North Africa, down
through Sudan, eastward into Jordan and south to the Arabian peninsula, and even beyond into Asia, there is a new cutting edge to
the Islamic revolution that is underway: hundreds of battle-
hardened Muslim zealots, trained, armed and funded by the Americans, British and some of the very Arab states they now threaten.
They are veterans of the long war fought by the Muslim Mujahedin
of Afghanistan against the Soviet Army and Moscow's communist
puppet regime in Kabul from 1979 to 1991. These zealots from
Egypt, Algeria, Jordan and a dozen other Arab states helped fight
the Soviets to a standstill in a "jihad," or holy war, against
communism and accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now,
turning on their benefactors, they are waging a new jihad against
secular Arab governments, whose fall -- which is possible -- will
dramatically change the political map of the Middle East and have
significant consequences for Europe and beyond. It is likely that
there would have been Islamic eruptions whether there had been
veterans of the Afghanistan war or not. But what is undeniable is
that these combat-experienced zealots gave the fundamentalists a
powerful strike arm that they would not otherwise have had. Their
military skills and religious fanaticism make them a formidable
foe whose activities may yet extend more forcefully into the West
if governments seek to aid the pro-Western Arab states that are
now under attack.
The main thrust of this Islamic revolution is currently
in Algeria. The bloody civil war that erupted in January 1992
when the army denied power to the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS)
by suspending the country's first democratic elections which the
fundamentalists had expected to win, is spearheaded by the so-
called "Afghans." There are an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 of them
in Algeria who form the core of the hard-line fundamentalists
fighting to topple the military-backed government and establish
an Islamic state. The government quickly rounded up most of the
FIS leadership at the start of the violence, along with much of
its cadre. That left the way open for the "Afghans," who took no
part in the elections, to move in and launch an armed struggle to
bring down the government by force. An estimated 400 people are
being killed every week as the struggle intensifies.The death
toll in Algiers sometimes reaches 50 a day. All told, as many as
10,000 people have perished, many at the hands of the "Afghans."
The FIS sought constitutional change, but it has an armed
wing, the Islamic Salvation Army, or AIS. The FIS appears to be
increasingly split, with hard-liners seeking to join forces with
the radical Armed Islamic Group, known as the GIA, which has been
primarily responsible for the killing of scores of Westerners
over the last year or so. The GIA is dominated by the "Afghans."
One of its leaders, ex-FIS member Sid Ahmed Mourad, alias Jaafar
al-Afghani, who fought the Red Army in Afghanistan, was killed by
security forces in March 1994 after succeeding Abdelhaq Layada,
who was arrested in Morocco in June 1993 and extradited to Algeria where he remains in detention. Another GIA leader is Ahmed
Bounaoua, an Afghan veteran. He was expelled from France in August 1992 and is a member of the movement's Overseas Executive
Council. Kamar Kharban, a former Algerian army officer who became
a Mujahedin commander in Afghanistan, is a key FIS leader.
The GIA is emerging as the main Islamic force, undermin-
ing prospects of a political compromise between the FIS and the
government. Other splinter groups, most of them hard-line, anti-
Western radicals, are emerging, such as the Organization of Free
Islamic Youth, blamed for the murder of Islamic moderates who ad-
vocated dialogue between the FIS and the government, and the
Movement of the Islamic State. The western and eastern regions of
Algeria are largely the domain of the AIS, while the GIA and its
Afghans are strongest around Algiers. Where the AIS largely con-
fines its attacks to military and government targets, the GIA has
been concentrating its death squads on foreigners and Algerian
intellectuals in and around the capital. As the violence and
counter-violence swell, the GIA is gaining strength. It is widely
viewed as the champion of young, undereducated and mostly unemployed Algerians who are increasingly turning to militant Islam
as the only hope for salvation from governments that have long
ignored their worsening plight.
One of the GIA's early leaders was Tayeb al-Afghani, nom
de guerre of an Afghan War veteran and former smuggler who commanded an Arab group in Afghanistan. He became a symbol of the
Afghans and Islamic fundamentalism in Algeria when he was captured after an attack on a police station at al-Gummar in
southeastern Algeria near the Tunisian border in November 1992.
That triggered a wider war, pitting the fundamentalists against
the Algerian army.
Arming the Afghan rebels was one of the biggest operations the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) ran through the
1980's. Much of this was overseen by the large CIA stations in
Cairo and Islamabad. Most of the covert weapons shipments and
other paramilitary support was channelled through Egypt and Pak-
istan. As part of this massive covert operation, the brainchild
of the late CIA Director William J. Casey, the agency provided
$3.5 billion in funding. Saudi Arabia provided hundreds of millions of dollars through a secret bank account held jointly with
the CIA in Switzerland. Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, or
SIS, played a crucial role in this, the largest covert paramilitary operation since World War II. CIA and SIS teams directed the
war against the Kabul regime from bases in Pakistan, whose intelligence service has long had close relations with the British.
Mujahedin groups, including Arab volunteers, were trained by ex-
soldiers of Britain's Special Air Service (SAS) working for
private security companies run by former SAS officers and frequently used by SIS for deniable operations.
One company that was heavily involved in the Afghan
operations was KMS, which trained Mujahedin teams in Saudi Arabia
and Oman, where the CIA and SIS had secret bases. The "Afghans"
comprised an estimated 10,000 men, not all of whom saw combat.
They included some 2,000 Egyptians, 2,800 Algerians, 400 Tunisians, 370 Iraqis, 300 Yemenis, 200 Libyans, hundreds of Jordanians and other Arabs. In Afghanistan, the Arab volunteers were attracted to the most radical Mujahedin factions, especially Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's fundamentalist Hezb-i-Islami, which was heavily supported by Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence, the CIA
and the SIS.
Egypt, too, is locked in a war with Islamic fundamentalists who include several hundred "Afghan" guerrillas. The main
group is led by Mohammed Shawky al-Istambouli -- brother of the
fundamentalist army lieutenant, Khalid al-Istambouli, who led the
group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in October
1981 -- and Ayman Zawahiry. It split from the mainstream faction
known as the "Dawa and Sharia" (The Call and Islamic Law) which
had been the mother group for all the Arabs "Afghans" during the
war against the Soviets. This group had received direct support
from U.S., British, French and Israeli intelligence agencies.
Al-Istambouli made his way to Peshawar, the Mujahedin's base in
eastern Pakistan, in 1983 and his close links to Tehran made him
an ideal conduit for Iranian funds for the Egyptian fundamentalist radicals in Afghanistan. Al-Istambouli was sentenced to death
in absentia by an Egyptian court in December 1992 for plotting to
overthrow Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government and assassinate Egyptian leaders. He has a base in Jalalabad, capital
of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan and Hekmayat's power
base. Gaamat al-Islamiya still has about 200 men there today. In
1990, al-Istambouli was host in Pakistan to Sheikh Omar Abdel-
Rahman, who is now on trial in the United States for alleged in-
volvement in the World Trade Center bombing in New York on Feb.
26, 1993, and plotting other attacks. Both Abdel-Rahman's sons
fought in Afghanistan. Mahmoud Abouhalima, an Egyptian Afghan
veteran, allegedly planned the Trade Center attack and trained
others to carry it out. Another "Afghan," Ahmad Ajaj, entered the
United States on a fake Pakistani passport carrying bomb-making
manuals and other material for the bombers. A third man, Sudanese
Siddig Ibrahim Siddiq Ali, was with Abouhalima in Afghanistan in
1988-90. An Egyptian scholar who knew them there said they were
"very good commanders whofought in various provinces." Another
key fugitive is Ibrahim el-Mekkawi, a prominent fundamentalist
who fled Egypt after the Sadat assassination. Authorities in
Cairo claim he is directing the Islamic campaign in Egypt from
Pakistan. A former army colonel, he travels between Peshawar and
Afghanistan where he maintains training camps and other bases.
One of his lieutenants is Mahmoud el-Sabbawy, who lost his right
leg fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.
In a recent interview in Pakistan, el-Mekkawi said that
"it would be easy to overthrow the government" in Cairo. "But
what comes next is more complicated" because the fundamentalists
still do not have enough support among the Egyptian officers
corps to control Egypt after a coup. One of his men, a Palestinian who would only give his nom de guerre of Abu Boaz,said it may
take another decade for the fundamentalists to topple Arab
governments. But he remains optimistic, because "the young generation in the Islamic world is coming out of its stupor."
Authorities in Cairo claim that wealthy Gulf Arabs provide funding for militant Islamic zealots spearheaded by the "Af-
ghans" in Egypt and other Arab states, while Iran guides and
directs their activities. Saudi Arabia and its allies deny that.
These are mainly Sunni Muslims, whereas Iran is predominantly
Shiite Muslim. There is no direct evidence that Tehran is involved in these campaigns, but the fundamentalist regime held a
major conference of Islamic groups in Iran in February 1993, allocated funds and discussed strategy. Soon after that, Algeria
and Egypt were hit by waves of assassinations and kidnappings
reminiscent of the operations conducted by Tehran-backed Lebanese
Shiites between 1983 and the 1990 end of the civil war there.
Cairo security authorities claim there is a link between the Gulf
bankrollers and Iran's intelligence services.
Among the financiers is Ussama bin Laden and his brother
Khaled, whose family made a vast fortune in Saudi Arabia in the
construction industry over the last few decades. Bin Laden
founded the Islamic Salvation Foundation in Saudi Arabia through
which he financed initially the Afghani Mujahedin, later extending that to radical Islamic groups around the Arab world. The
Saudis denied that bin Laden and others were involved. Nonethe-
less, in early 1994 the Saudis revoked bin Laden's nationality --
an extremely rare occurrence -- and his family, originally from
the south Yemeni province of Hadramawt and one of the richest in
Saudi Arabia, publicly disowned him.
Bin Laden is now based in Sudan, under the protection of
the Islamic government there and its spiritual leader, Hassan
al-Tourabi. He has recently opened an office in London and,
despite the Saudi government's actions, still has access to large
amounts of money held in foreign banks.
In recent months, Pakistan has been hunting down Arab
"Afghans" at the request of Cairo and Algiers. It signed an extradition agreement with Egypt in March 1994 to return wanted
"Afghans" among the 1,800 believed still in that Asian country.
Pakistan's efforts stemmed largely from its desire to avoid being
branded by theU.S. State Department as a country that sponsors
terrorism, which automatically disqualifies it for U.S. economic
aid. It has sought to close down organization supposedly helping
refugees but which are suspected fronts for Islamic radicals. But
senior Pakistani officials argue that the long trail of arms and
ideologically motivated Islamic activists cannot be eliminated
easily. It is a daunting task, and there has been considerable
opposition inside Pakistan itself, including among high-ranking
military officers like former Lt. Gen. Javed Nasir, who headed
the ISI during the Afghanistan war and coordinated with the CIA,
and SIS, the Saudis and others in building up the Mujahedin force
as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism.
In August, the religious right threatened protests if
Arab "Afghans" were thrown out. In May 1994, Pakistani authorities began deporting wanted Egyptians. The first was 26-year-old
Ali Eid, wanted on suspicion of belonging to an outlawed Islamic-
group, the Vanguards of Conquest, a revival of the Jihad movement
responsible for the Sadat assassination. The government claimed
Eid left Egypt in 1990 for military training in Peshawar.The
Egyptians have hanged scores of convicted militants, including
members of the Vanguard blamed for the attempted assassinations
of Interior Minister Hassasal-Alfy in August 1993 and Prime Minister Atef Sedki in November 1993. Interior Minister Hassan el-
Alfy claimed that the extremists who ambushed Sedki's limousine
in suburban Cairo with a remote-controlled bomb were "highly
trained in Afghanistan in the use of explosive materials."
During the Afghanistan war, the Egyptian Gaamet al-
Islamiya detachment was particularly respected for its military
skills and reckless courage. With a strength of around 300 men at
its peak, this contingent, which included Abdel-Rahman's two
sons, fought mainly in Nangarhar province in eastern Pakistan,
controlled largely by Hezb-i-Islami and where large numbers of
the foreign volunteers were deployed. The "Afghans" expelled from
Pakistan, under pressure from Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and the United States, are often fugitives in their homelands. So many go
to Iran, from where they are able to get to Sudan or northern
Iraq, where Kurdish Islamic groups accommodate them until they
are filtered out to other countries in the Arab world. Many go to
Yemen, where the Islamic Reform Party (Islah) provides shelter.
The fundamentalist party, guided by Sheikh Abdul Mejid Az- Zindani, encourages them to settle in Yemen, where there has been an
upsurge in Islamic action in recent months. Much of it has been
directed at the Yemen Socialist Party, which is now largely
discredited because of the secessionist efforts of its former
leaders during the May-July 1994 civil war.
Many "Afghans" fought on the side of the Islamic-backed
Sanaa government during that conflict. Until Pakistan started
getting tough with the foreign "Afghans," Az-Zindani frequently
visited Peshawar. So did Rashid el-Gannouchi, exiled leader of
Tunisia's outlawed Nahda fundamentalist party. He was sentenced
to life imprisonment in Tunisia for plotting to overthrow and assassinate President Zineal-Abedine ben Ali. Based in London, he
travels on a Sudanese diplomatic passport and frequently visits
Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Another important "Afghan" is Mohammed Nazzal, a computer expert who studied in Pakistan and now is a leader of Hamas, the
Palestinian fundamentalist faction. Nazzal is based in Amman,
Jordan. In Jordan, the "Afghans" are largely clandestine and have
links with Hamas and Islamic Jihad-Palestine. They formed the
Jayish Mohammed, or Mohammed's Army, in 1991 and planned to
launch a campaign of terrorist bombings and assassinations aimed
at toppling the Hashemite throne. Several were imprisoned after a
series of bombings and others are on trial for subversion now.
Sudan, a cradle of fundamentalism, now has an Islamic alliance with Iran and, according to western and Arab intelligence
sources, harbors large numbers of Muslim extremists from all
around the Middle East, including hundreds of "Afghans" who have
not yet been able to return to their home countries. In Eritrea,
probably the only country in the Horn of Africa not embroiled in
conflict, President Isayas Afewerki alleged earlier this year
that armed Islamic militants based in Sudan were infiltrating
seeking to destabilize his fledgling state. After 20 were reportedly killed in a border gunbattle, he claimed that many were Arab
"Afghans" from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Pakistan.
Yemen was a key source of manpower for the "Afghans."
From 1984 until the end of the decade, Az-Zendani sent between
5,000 and 7,000 Arabs, including Yemenis, to Pakistan and Afghan-
istan via Saudi Arabia for military training and religious teaching under his guidance. When the Yemenis returned home after the
Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, they made no secret of their
new sense of mission to eradicate from the former South Yemen all
remnants of the onetime Marxist regime. The Sanaa government has
started cracking down on local "Afghans," even though they supported President Ali Saleh during the 1994 civil war against
southern secessionists. The hard-line "Afghans" attacked shrines
of the mystical Sufi sect, which Yemen's Zafi Muslims consider
heretical. A group of members of the Yemen Islamic Jihad organization, including several "Afghans," were imprisoned in Aden in
early 1994 for bombing two hotels there inDecember 1992. The
group has been funded in the past by bin Laden.
Arab "Afghans" have been moving further afield as well.
Some are in Bosnia, helping fellow Muslims fight the Christian
Serbs. Between 200 and 300 of these veterans of the Afghan war,
including non-Arab Muslims, are based in Zenica in Bosnia, where
they are widely feared. Hundreds of "Afghans" have made their way
to Bosnia. The number of non-Bosnian Muslims in the military is
estimated at between 500 and 1,000 from a dozen countries in the
Middle East. From all accounts, they have fought with some distinction. Some 300 "Afghans," organized into a unit known as "the
Guerrillas," operates with the Bosnian 3rd Corps in Zenica. Algerian FIS leader Kamar Kharban, a veteran of the Afghanistan
war, has visited Bosnia several times over the last two years.
The "Afghans" and other Muslim volunteers have also been
a source of friction with the Bosnians, who are largely secular
Muslims. The outsiders' religious zeal and arrogant commitment to
their holy war has angered their hosts. But many of the
volunteers represent wealthy organizations or countries whose
support thebeleaguered Bosnians count on. "Afghans" are believed
to have been behind the murder of British aid worker Paul Goodall
on Jan. 27, 1994, near Zenica. Three Muslim volunteers, all Arabs
carrying fake Pakistani passports, were shot dead by Bosnian military police at a roadblock near Sarajevo. Three others were
arrested by police for questioning in the murder. The Al-Kifah,
or Struggle, Refugee Center in New York, which used to recruit
andraise funds for Mujahedeen headed for Afghanistan, last year
announced it was switching its operations to Bosnia. It was established in the mid-1980s by Egyptian Mustafa Rahman as a joint
venture with Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, spiritual leader of Gamaat
Some Arab "Afghans" have even been reported in the Muslim
provinces of western China and Indian security authorities say
they have killed or captured a score of Arab and other foreign
veterans of the Afghanistan war fighting with Muslim guerrillas
in disputed Kashmir. They say they have learned the names of
another 50 Arab guerrillas from the captured men.
Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan, has been the
spark for two of the three wars these countries have fought since
1947. U.S. authorities believe there may be as many as 200 Arab
"Afghans" in the New York-New Jersey area alone, all viewed as
potential terrorists in the aftermath of the World Trade Center
The wave of Islamic extremism sweeping North Africa is
increasingly deep-rooted,fueled not only by the attempts to
suppress it by the governments concerned but by the growing be-
lief among the Muslim populations of the region that long-ignored
political and economic reforms can only be squeezed out of the
regimes in power, not obtained by negotiation. The fundamentalist
creed also believes that the secular governments of the Arab
world must first be overthrown before the greater enemy, the
West, can be tackled. As the situation in Algeria disintegrates,
all the signs point to a prolonged war of attrition in which the
country could be split. It is considered inconceivable that the
Islamic guerrillas can be crushed, while they are not militarily
strong enough to defeat the army. If the turmoil spreads from Algeria and Egypt to Tunisia and Morocco, and there are already
signs of Islamic fervor in these states, it could eventually produce a hostile Islamic bloc on the southern shore of the Mediterranean that would have serious implications for western and
southern Europe. The upheaval in Algeria, of particular concern
to France, could have repercussions in Italy, Spain and Portugal,
all of which rely on Algerian gas. Throughout the European Union,
which has been focusing on eastern Europe of late, the dangers of
massive Muslim emigration from North Africa as it loses the pro-
western orientation of the secular governments there and the
proliferation of regional conflicts to immigrant communities are
of increasing concern. Events in Algeria have inspired a young
radical movement in many of Europe's slums and working-class
suburbs where North African Muslims abound.
An Islamic victory in North Africa would also have potentially critical consequences for Israel, which increasingly perceives militant Islam to be its main adversary. Beyond Israel too
lie the Arab monarchies of Jordan and the Gulf, as well as Syria.
This latter has so far had little trouble from its fundamental-
ists, who were brutally crushed by President Hafez al- Assad's
socialist regime in the early 1980s. The Arab-Israeli peace process -- vehemently opposed by Iran and its surrogates in the Arab
world like Hizbullah of Lebanon and Islamic Jihad in Palestine --
will undoubtedly spawn fresh expectations that, in the absence of
conflict, standards of living will improve and that in their
train will come thedemocratic reforms that dictators like Assad
have long opposed because their regimes would be imperiled. When
those reforms do not appear, Islamic fundamentalism, which has
now eclipsedthe discredited and obsolete notion of secular, pan-
Arab nationalism, will be where the Arab Muslims will turn.