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Afghans Kills al-Qaida Leader 10/25 09:43

   

   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan claimed Sunday it killed a top 
al-Qaida propagandist on an FBI most-wanted list during an operation in the 
country's east, showing the militant group's continued presence there as U.S. 
forces work to withdraw from America's longest-running war amid continued 
bloodshed.

   The reported death of Husam Abd al-Rauf, also known by the nom de guerre Abu 
Muhsin al-Masri, follows weeks of violence, including a suicide bombing by the 
Islamic State group Saturday at an education center near Kabul that killed 24 
people. 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 this nation beset by decades of war into further 
instability. They also complicate America's efforts to withdraw, 19 years after 
it led an invasion targeting the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin 
Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks.

   Details over the raid that led to al-Rauf's alleged death remained murky 
hours after Afghanistan's intelligence service, the National Directorate of 
Security, claimed on Twitter to have killed him in Ghazni province. It said one 
of its members was also killed in the operation. The agency released a 
photograph late Sunday afternoon 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 
declined to comment. The U.S. military's Central Command and NATO did not 
respond to requests for comment.

   The Afghan raid happened last week in Kunsaf, a village in Ghazni province's 
Andar district some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Kabul, two 
government officials said.

   Amanullah Kamrani, the deputy head of Ghazni's provincial council, told The 
Associated Press 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, Kamrani said.

   Neither 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.

   Kamrani alleged, without providing evidence, that the Taliban had been 
offering shelter and protection to al-Rauf. The Taliban told the AP on Sunday 
they are investigating the incident.

   If the Taliban had provided protection for al-Rauf that would violate the 
terms of its Feb. 29 deal with the U.S. that jump-started the Afghan peace 
talks. That deal saw the Taliban agree "not to cooperate with groups or 
individuals threatening the security of the United States and its allies," 
which includes al-Qaida.

   The Afghan presidential palace issued a statement Sunday saying al-Rauf had 
been killed and warning it "proved that the threat of terrorism and the 
Taliban's links to terrorist networks are still in place."

   "The Taliban should prove to the people, the government of Afghanistan and 
the international community that they are ending their links with terrorist 
groups, including al-Qaida," the statement said. They "should stop the war and 
violence and facilitate a dignified and sustainable peace in the country."

   Federal 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 organization and being part of a conspiracy to kill U.S. 
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 mujaheddin fighters 
who battled the Soviet Union in 1986.

   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 Mohammad Omar's 
death, al-Rauf reemerged in 2018 in an audio statement in which he mocked 
President Donald Trump and those who preceded him the White House.

   "I name him 'Donald T-Rambo' who tries to copy the famous American fictional 
character ?Rambo,' who, with only a Kalashnikov, was able to liberate the 
entire Afghanistan from the Soviet Union," al-Rauf said, according to the SITE 
Intelligence Group.

   The Afghan presidential palace described al-Rauf as "al-Qaida's leader for 
the Indian subcontinent." The National Directorate of Security referred to 
al-Rauf as having a close relationship with both bin Laden and Ayman 
al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian now leading al-Qaida. It said he lived for years in 
hideouts in both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

   Meanwhile Sunday, authorities raised the death toll in Saturday's suicide 
attack on an education center near Kabul. The suicide bomber, who was stopped 
by guards from entering the center, killed 24 and wounded 57 --- many of them 
young students.

   The Islamic State group's local affiliate claimed credit for the attack in a 
heavily Shiite neighborhood of western Kabul's Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, 
saying one of its fighters used a suicide bomb vest in the assault. The Sunni 
extremists of the Islamic State group view Shiites as heretics and have 
repeatedly targeted them in attacks in Afghanistan, even after losing the 
territory of their so-called caliphate once spanning parts of Iraq and Syria.

   Mourners later gathered on a dusty hillside to bury the youths killed by the 
bombing. An Afghan flag whipped in the wind above their heads as they prayed 
for, buried and quietly remembered those lost.

   "They had no guns on hand," said one mourner named Azizullah, who like many 
Afghans uses one name. "They wanted to study and have a bright future for 
themselves and the country."

 
 
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