‘Salafist group’ allied with Taliban, al Qaeda behind kidnapping of slain British aid worker

A Taliban subgroup with links to al Qaeda was behind the kidnapping of a British aid worker who was killed during a rescue attempt late last week.

The Jamaat ul Dawa al Quran, a Salafist group that merged with the Taliban at the beginning of the year, kidnapped Linda Norgrove, the British aid worker, and her Afghan colleagues as they were driving through the Taliban stronghold of Kunar province in northeastern Afghanistan on Sept. 26. Norgrove worked for Development Alternatives Incorporated, which works under the aegis of USAID.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said that “Linda’s captors were assessed to be representatives of a local Salafist group allied to the local Kunar Taliban, who had links higher up the Taliban chain of command, to Al Qaeda, and to other insurgent groups operating in the Afghan and Pakistan border areas.” Hague made the statement to the House of Commons today.

US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that the group was indeed the Jamaat ul Dawa al Quran (JDQ), which is closely tied to the Taliban establishment in Kunar as well as to al Qaeda.

Haque said that JDQ had intended to transfer Norgrove to senior Taliban leaders. Qari Zia Rahman, a regional Taliban leader who also serves as a senior al Qaeda commander, leads the terrorist forces in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan provinces, as well as in the Pakistan tribal agency of Bajaur.

“We had information from the outset that the objective of Linda’s captors was to pass her further up the Taliban command chain and perhaps move her to yet more inaccessible terrain,” Haque said.

Norgrove was killed during a US Special operations forces raid that has created a controversy between the two key NATO allies. The International Security Assistance Force first claimed Norgrove was killed by the Taliban, but have since said it would launch an investigation after reports surfaced that she may have been accidentally killed by US forces during the raid. Norgrove is thought to have been killed by fragments from a hand grenade thrown by the US operators. Six Taliban fighters were also killed during the raid.

Unnamed British officials are claiming the US launched the raid without using British special operations forces, and described US forces as careless and “gung ho,” according to The Telegraph.

But Hague rebuffed such charges, and noted that Norgrove was taken hostage in an area under US control. British troops do not operate in eastern Afghanistan and thus are unfamiliar with the terrain and the nature of the enemy, while US special operations troops routinely carry out raids in the region.

Background on the Jamaat ul Dawa al Quran

The Jamaat ul Dawa al Quran, which is also known variously as the Jamaat al Dawa ila al Sunnah, Jamaat ud Dawa il al Quran al Sunnah, and the Salafi Group, is actually an official part of the Taliban. JDQ officially joined the Taliban in January 2010 and swore allegiance to Mullah Omar, the emir of the Taliban’s shadow Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. On Jan. 9, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid released an official statement formally announcing JDQ’s merger with the Taliban and named the group’s leadership.

“The movement, Jamaat al Dawa ila al Sunnah of Afghanistan which has regularly carried out Jihad in the name of Salafi Taliban in Kunar province, has now allied itself with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” Mujahid said in a statement published on the Taliban’s official website, Voice of Jihad.

The US began identifying the JDQ as a threat this summer, and killed three members of the group on August 19.

Three members of the JDQ have been detained by the US at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, a “poet” and journalist who worked for pro-Taliban papers, was sent to Pakistan in 2005. In 2008, the Pakistani government freed Dost and handed him over to the Taliban as part of a deal to free Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan. Sahib Rohullah Wakil was a senior member of JDQ who had close connections to the Pakistani government and helped al Qaeda escape to Pakistan after the US invasion in late 2001. Sabar Lal Melma was a general in the Taliban’s army and helped al Qaeda fighters flee the battle of Tora Bora and cross the border into Pakistan. Wakil and Melma were repatriated to Afghanistan and are in detention at the Pul-e-Charkhi prison outside of Kabul.

Kunar province is a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and allied terror groups. The presence of al Qaeda cells has been detected in the districts of Pech, Shaikal Shate, Sarkani, Dangam, Asmar, Asadabad, Shigal, and Marawana; or eight of Kunar’s 15 districts, according to an investigation by The Long War Journal.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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11 Comments

  • ArneFufkin says:

    This regrettable affair raises questions in my mind as to the co-ordination of private USAID contractors and the security personnel necessary to protect them.
    Unlike the British led PRT in Helmand – who are full partners with US Marines and Danish troops who daily provide transportation and protection – it seems the USAID contractors like DAI undertake ad hoc projects that bypass the secure protection that professional soldiers, NATO police and Marines provide to the civilian PRT personnel.
    The roles of USAID, DFID and numerous NGOs in Aghanistan have always been a little murky in my mind.
    That being said, this was an unfortunate outcome that ended the life of a dedicated humanitarian. RIP.

  • tom says:

    The Telegraph is trying to stir up trouble between us/uk forces for it’s own ends – and not for the first time. The SAS/SBS have their hands full in Helmand. The SEAL team risked everything to save the hostage – I salute their courage.

  • TLA says:

    Actually Tom, the Telegraph is a very pro-US and pro-armed forces newspaper. In some British messes it is the only one, bar the Times, that is read.
    I can assume that you’re making this assumption by mistaking it to some sort of liberal rag like the Guardian or Independent.

  • paul says:

    It is not a coincidence that most of the hostile areas border our main enemy Pakistan

  • James says:

    It is tragic what happened to that lady.
    She gave her life for the good of the Afghan people, and we all should help carry that torch in memory of her. I’m sure that she would expect no less from US.
    I guess as it is said hindsight is always 20/20, but why wasn’t it a joint operation (involving both US and British soldiers)? In my humble opinion that may have been a better preparation.
    We’ve got to get more unity and cohesiveness in the WOT beginning with Afghanistan.

  • davidp says:

    James, an outsider’s opinion: a joint operation adds co-ordination issues and differing expectations and behaviours. These are the last things you want during a hostage rescue attempt. Take a team that trained together for that kind of mission and keep them together with no extra complications. If they’re good enough for rescuing U.S. citizens, they’re good enough for rescuing other aid workers.

  • Charu says:

    RIP. She was trying to help Afghans, but ended up losing her life. These rescue operations are always risky; it could have also cost the lives of her well-intentioned rescuers, which would have been even more tragic. The blame entirely lies with the Taliban and their operators in Pakistan.
    The business of “Salafist” groups being associated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban seems to be mere obfuscation of the Islamist continuum. Salafists, Deobandhis, Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda are just regional facets of the deeper movement within the Muslim world, and intertwine deeply. Tariq Ramadan, for example, provides the Salafist “moderate” face that “intellectuals” in the West desperately seek. But Paul Berman eviscerates this carefully constructed image in his recent book, The Flight of the Intellectuals, and exposes the deep and historical connections between these organizations.

  • pontiff alex says:

    Tragic. I think in the long run, give the proclivities of the Taliban, she may have gotten off easier with her untimely death, than the alternative without the rescue attempt. That said, if you enter the lions den…..

  • xavier says:

    I wonder what is the result of this woman’s generous contributions to Afghan people.
    She is not recognized/remembered, living under constant threat of an ultra conservative society. Death is the result of such generous activities.
    We could use some help here back home. We will recognize/remember the contributions irrespective of her religion.

  • kp says:

    The details are starting to come out:

    //www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/13/linda-norgrove-us-commando-disciplinary

    I fail to see why anyone is throwing frag grenades during a hostage rescue especially if you don’t know where the hostage is. If you don’t know where the hostage is just use concussion grenades and rifle fire and identify hostile targets. She was away from her captors and on the ground in a fetal position and was no threat to the SEALS. I though the SF rule was to shoot people standing up after giving a command

    The SEAL also failed to say afterward he threw the grenade.

    Helmet video was recorded so there is some evidence to appear during the investigation.

    Please guys don’t defend the SF just because they’re the “good guys”. When one goes in on missions like this one has to minimize the chances of FFing the hostage even if it means loosing servicemen. The political win of a successful hostage rescue outweighs our SF casualties. They did a good job not killing Afghan civilians in the attack.

    The Guardian report is just factual with no ideology there before you find it not matching the “correct” ideology.

    Wikipedia has a good overview too pointing to various sources: //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Linda_Norgrove

    All the allied SF need to learn from this failed rescue attempt. That’s the best we can do now.

  • James says:

    Davidp, with all due respects to your positions, obviously I meant that they would have to learn, train and be prepared for the coordinated missions in advance.
    I believe that Al Queda is active in like maybe 30 or 40 different countries. We need to get the rest of civilization on board with US to fight this menace.
    We can not “invade and occupy” 30 or 40 different countries. We don’t have the human or material resources to do so.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis