Al Qaeda leader calls foreign fighters to Afghanistan

In the latest issue of pamphlets released by al Qaeda’s central as-Sahab media entitled “This is Gaza: A War of Existence, Not a War of Borders,” Sayf al-Adl, believed to be al Qaeda’s current overall emir, calls on supporters around the world to migrate to Afghanistan.

In doing so, this offers the most clear and open call for foreigners to join al Qaeda’s ranks in Afghanistan since the Taliban captured the country in 2021. Adl’s message thus acts to officially pronounce Afghanistan as a safe-haven for al Qaeda and its future plans. 

Adl, writing under the pseudonym Salim al-Sharif, plainly states that “the loyal people of the Ummah [worldwide Islamic community] interested in change must go to Afghanistan, learn from its conditions, and benefit from their [the Taliban’s] experience.” 

In making this call for hijrah [migration], Adl uses the current war in Gaza as a catalyst to encourage people to travel to Afghanistan to gain training, experience, and knowledge before undertaking attacks against so-called “Zionist” and Western targets around the world.

For instance, in the pamphlet, Adl warns that “the continuation of the genocide [in Gaza] calls for the Islamic peoples to strike all Zionist interests (both Western and Jewish) in all Islamic lands.” He continues with that “this strike must be a painful one as we are too late in doing what is required of us.” 

He goes on to say that the appropriate “reaction to the enemies’ crimes is with action, not with words,” with Adl saying that 9/11, the resulting War in Afghanistan, and the October 7 invasion of Israel were all great examples of taking action against the enemy. Adl also praises and encourages “sleeper cells” in Western countries, as these act as a “deterrent force” against further Western “crimes.” 

Further lamenting these alleged crimes of the West, Adl then states that Muslims should look to the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan (IEA) as heroes and as a model to build future Islamic states. The IEA, or the Taliban’s government in Afghanistan, has perfected running various processes and institutions in governing an Islamic state according to Adl.

Answering the age-old question of who is the real enemy for al Qaeda, be it local, regional, or international targets, Adl answers that enemies exist at each level. As such, al Qaeda’s response to the ongoing war in Gaza, according to Adl, will vary and take place in manners appropriate to each party’s role in the conflict. In doing so, Adl implies al Qaeda will take military action across all three levels to avenge Gaza. 

It is through these varied responses, in what is particularly referred to as “special operations” in the West, that Adl makes the argument that Muslims living in the West should be advised to leave and migrate to Islamic lands, particularly Afghanistan, to avoid being in the crossfire. Muslims coming from the West are then also encouraged to support the IEA with their “wealth” once migrating to Afghanistan.

In an ostensible message to al Qaeda’s various branches around the world, Adl also stresses the need that “we communicate and exchange military experiences” and that in al Qaeda’s various “fields of conflict, we must also support one another.” Though not particularly detailed, this line likely refers to ongoing communication and guidance between al Qaeda’s central leadership and the various branches on current strategy. 

Al Qaeda’s current status in Afghanistan 

Adl is thought to have succeeded Ayman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s last emir who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on a Taliban safe house in the Afghan capital of Kabul. The safe house was managed by a lieutenant of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the IEA minister of interior and one of the Taliban’s two deputy emirs. Sirajuddin’s powerful Haqqani Network is listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization for its close ties to al Qaeda. Sirajuddin and many of his top lieutenants are also labeled as Specially Designated Global Terrorists by the U.S.

Neither al Qaeda nor the Taliban acknowledged Zawahiri’s death. The Taliban does not want to provide evidence of its close relationship with al Qaeda to avoid international condemnation. Al Qaeda does not want to bring condemnation on its Taliban host, nor does it want to draw attention to the fact that its new leader, Adl, is based in Iran

Al Qaeda has established a significant amount of infrastructure in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021, according to reports by the United Nations Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team. Additionally, “the relationship between the Taliban and Al-Qaida remains close,” the Monitoring Team reported.

Al Qaeda operates training camps in 10 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. The camps are operational in the provinces of Badghis, Helmand, Ghazni, Kunar, Laghman, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Parwan, Uruzgan, and Zabul. An al Qaeda leader known as Hakim al Masri is “is responsible for the training camps and conducting suicide bomber training for TTP,” or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, an ally of al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.

In the central Afghan province of Panjshir, the former bastion of the anti-Taliban National Resistance Front, al Qaeda has established a new base “to stockpile weaponry.” 

In the provinces Laghman, Kunar, Nangarhar, Nuristan and Parwan, al Qaeda is operating five madrasas, or religious schools.

Al Qaeda also maintains safe houses in Herat, Farah, Helmand, and Kabul provinces, according to the Monitoring Team. Al Qaeda “maintains safe houses” in Herat, Farah and Helmand “to facilitate the movement [of members] between Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran.” One al Qaeda safe house in Kabul was exposed in July 2022, when the U.S. killed Zawahiri.

Both Adl and his deputy, ‘Abd al Rahman al Maghrebi, are believed to have traveled from Iran into Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country. 

Other senior al Qaeda leaders are known to be based in Afghanistan. Abdul Haq al Turkistani, the leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party who is also a member of al Qaeda’s leadership council, is known to operate in Afghanistan. Osama Mahmood, the leader of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, is ensconced in the country. 

Amin al Haq, Osama bin Laden’s former security chief, made a triumphant return to Afghanistan from Pakistan soon after the Taliban seized the country. Abu Ikhlas al Masri, a top military commander who was imprisoned at Bagram until the Taliban opened the gates to the jail, has reestablished his military units

Abdul Rahman al-Ghamdi serves as a liaison to Adl and Maghrebi when they travel to and from Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda’s infrastructure and safe haven within Afghanistan gives the terror group the opportunity to capitalize on Adl’s call for its supporters to migrate to the country.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal. Caleb Weiss is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal and a senior analyst at the Bridgeway Foundation, where he focuses on the spread of the Islamic State in Central Africa.

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