I was pretty much surprised by the interview which colleague Nasser al-Haqbani at Ash-Sharq al-Awsat daily conducted with Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a former “star mujahideen” in Afghanistan during the 1980s and 1990s.
Sayyaf looked like he just walked out of the pages of history. Besides his grey hair and beard, his looks did not change at all.
Sayyaf commented on Afghanistan’s current situation but what was really interesting in the interview is his statements on figures from that phase and who have influenced politics and culture ever since. He discussed his relation with Osama Bin Laden and how he first met him and Abdullah Azzam.
“We had something to do outside Afghanistan, and I met Bin Laden and Abdullah Aazzam at the same time. Two or three years later, I was in Paktia Province, southeast of Afghanistan, when Bin Laden and seven others whose names I don’t know visited us. They stayed with us for months, and they later traveled for some time and returned,” Sayyaf said.
That phase in Afghanistan has in general helped establish plenty of principles that founded today’s groups and policiesMashari Althaydi
“Bin Laden’s son Abdullah was with him. He was young and he was not assigned any tasks. He only spent time with us in the trench. Bin Laden did not bring any of his other family members. I did not even hear about Hamza during that time and I never met him,” he added.
As for Abdullah Azzam, the symbol of jihadists in the world and who was killed in Peshawar, Sayyaf said: “I have plenty of information and secrets on some jihad-related issues, including Azzam’s murder. I will expose them when the time is right,” adding that if he reveals these details at an improper time, strife may ensue.
Asked if he expected the assassination of Azzam, whom he was friends with, he said: “He himself felt it would happen during his last days, and he talked to me about it. Two months before he was killed, I dispatched him to a safe front to keep him far from those after him. However, they assassinated him when he returned to Peshawar.”
Sayyaf also narrated some new details about the circumstances surrounding the death of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Tajiks’ jihadist symbol, and who was assassinated by al-Qaeda members posing as journalists in the Arab Maghreb.
That phase in Afghanistan has in general helped establish plenty of principles that founded today’s groups and policies. Many influential Afghan figures, as well as Arab ones, from that phase are still alive, like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
It would be useful to orally document this history and to collect visual and written material related to it, such as Azzam’s magazine issues Al-Jihad.
The Afghan and Pakistani arenas during the 1980s and 1990s helped produce groups and figures such as al-Qaeda, al-Zarqawi, al-Maqdisi, al-Muqrin, al-Zawahiri and Refai Taha.
This is why Nasser’s interview with Sayyaf is significant and why I cited it.
This article was first published in Arabic.
Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy.
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