The US Department of Justice charged Muhanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, an American citizen, with conspiring to kill his countrymen in a double suicide attack at a military base in eastern Afghanistan. Farekh was part of al Qaeda’s paramilitary forces based in Afghanistan and Pakistan that fights as individual units as well as provides training and support to Taliban units.
Yesterday, the Department of Justice charged Farekh with nine different crimes, including conspiracy to murder Americans, the use of explosives, and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. The charges are related to a double suicide attack in the eastern Afghan province of Khost that took place on Jan. 19, 2014. One Afghan teenager was killed and an estimated 16 people were wounded in the attack, according to a report in The New York Times
As stated by the indictment, Farekh “assisted in the preparation of the vehicle-borne improvised explosive device,” a VBIED or a car bomb that is to be detonated by a suicide bomber, that was used in the January 2009 attack in Khost. One of the VBIEDs was detonated outside of the US base, and the other appears to have failed.
The Department of Justice initially indicted Farekh with providing material support to al Qaeda in April 2015 after he was captured by Pakistani forces and transferred to US custody. Also known as Abdullah al Shami and Saif al Shami, he is said to have been on the US government’s “Kill list,” according to The Washington Post.
In the original supporting documentation that lead to Farekh being charged, the government noted that he was born in Texas, and his family moved to Jordan at a young age. He and two co-conspirators, one who was identified as Ferid Imam, traveled from Canada to join al Qaeda in Pakistan after becoming radicalized by watching As Sahab videos and listening to al Qaeda preachers, including Anwar al Awlaki.
Farekh’s involvement in the Khost attack is further evidence of the close working relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan that continues to this day. The January 2009 suicide attack was originally thought to have been executed by the Haqqani Network, the powerful Taliban subgroup that is based in eastern Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal agency of North Waziristan. Farekh’s team would not have been able to execute the attack in Khost without the support of the Haqqani Network.
Farekh was at the minimum an operative in the Lashkar al Zil, or Shadow Army, al Qaeda’s paramilitary unit that fields forces in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and also embeds military trainers within Taliban units in both countries. These trainers provide instruction for battling security forces in local insurgencies, as well as knowledge, expertise, funding, and resources to conduct local and international attacks. The US Treasury Department confirmed the presence of al Qaeda “paramilitary brigades” in a designation of one of the group’s bomb makers. [For more information on this unit, see LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army,’, and US adds al Qaeda explosives expert to list of global terrorists.]
The original complaint against Farekh provides further information about al Qaeda’s training program and the Shadow Army. Al Qaeda had a “basic military-type training course in the FATA,” or Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. According to cooperating witnesses, who were al Qaeda members that attended the camps, “the course involved three separate areas of instruction: basic weapons training, explosives training and projectile weapons training. Each area of instruction would be taught by trainers in a class setting; each class lasted between one to three weeks.”
Ferid Imam, one of Farekh’s co-conspirators, became “a trainer in al-Qaeda’s military-type training program” after entering Pakistan. Al Qaeda was proud of its program and contrasted it to the Taliban’s rudimentary approach. “Imam favorably contrasted al Qaeda’s extensive training program with the lack of training provided by the Taliban to its fighters; according to Imam, al Qaeda gave its new recruits detailed weapons instruction and training, whereas the Taliban just handed their recruits a gun and sent them off to the battlefield.”
Al Qaeda is known to operate camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan to this day. The jihadist group operated two training camps in Shorabak district in Kandahar province, one which was 30 square miles, for one and a half years before US forces discovered and destroyed them in a four-day operation in October 2015. Al Qaeda is also thought to operate camps in Baramcha and Baghran in Helmand province.