Afghan forces ‘kill top al Qaida leader wanted by FBI’

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The wanted poster for Husam Abd al-Rauf, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Rahim Faiez, Tameem Akhgar and Jon Gambrell, Associated Press

Afghanistan claims it has killed a top al Qaida propagandist on an FBI most wanted list during an operation in the east of the country.

The reported death of Husam Abd al-Rauf, also known as Abu Muhsin al-Masri, follows weeks of violence including a suicide bombing on Saturday – claimed by so-called Islamic State -at an education centre near Kabul. The attack left 24 people dead.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government continues to fight Taliban militants even as peace talks in Qatar between the two sides take place for the first time.

The violence and al-Rauf’s reported killing threaten the face-to-face peace talks and risk plunging the nation into further instability.

It also complicates America’s efforts to withdraw from Afghanistan, 19 years after it led an invasion targeting the Taliban for hosting al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks.

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Details over the raid that led to al-Rauf’s alleged death remain murky, hours after Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security intelligence service claimed on Twitter to have killed him in Ghazni province.

It said one of its members was killed in the operation.

The agency released a photograph on Sunday it described as al-Rauf’s corpse, which resembled FBI images of the militant leader.

Al Qaida did not immediately acknowledge al-Rauf’s reported death.

The FBI, the US military’s Central Command and Nato did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Afghan raid happened last week in Kunsaf, a village in Ghazni province’s Andar district some 90 miles south-west of Kabul, two government officials said.

Amanullah Kamrani, the deputy head of Ghazni’s provincial council, said that Afghan special forces led by the intelligence agency raided Kunsaf, which he described as being under Taliban control.

On the village’s outskirts, they stormed an isolated home and killed seven suspected militants in a firefight, including al-Rauf, Mr Kamrani said.

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Neither Mr Kamrani nor the intelligence agency offered details on how authorities identified al-Rauf, nor how they came to suspect he was in the village.

Wahidullah Jumazada, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Ghazni, said Afghan forces killed six suspected militants in the raid, without acknowledging al-Rauf had been killed.

Mr Kamrani alleged, without providing evidence, that the Taliban had been offering shelter and protection to al-Rauf.

If the Taliban had provided protection for al-Rauf, that would violate the terms of its deal with the US that jump-started the Afghan peace talks.

That deal saw the Taliban agree “not to co-operate with groups or individuals threatening the security of the United States and its allies”, which includes al Qaida.

Prosecutors in the southern district of New York filed a warrant for al-Rauf’s arrest in December 2018, accusing him of providing support to a foreign terrorist organisation and being part of a conspiracy to kill US citizens.

The FBI put him on the bureau’s most wanted terrorists list, which now includes 27 others.

The red-headed al-Rauf, believed to be born in 1958, is an Egyptian national.

An al Qaida-issued biography said he joined the mujahedeen fighters who battled the Soviet Union in 1986.

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He has served for years as al Qaida’s media chief, offering audio statements and written articles backing the militant group.

After years of remaining silent following the acknowledgement of Taliban founder Mullah Omar’s death, al-Rauf re-emerged in 2018 in an audio statement in which he mocked US President Donald Trump and those who preceded him at the White House.

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