Dead or Alive?
by Tareq Hassan

“Some PA officials were quoted as saying…. [Hamas] was much weaker than originally thought; “as scary as a cat”, some said.”


Palestinian police lifted tight restrictions imposed earlier this week on the West Bank town of Jericho where Emad Awadallah, a key figure in the Hamas military wing, escaped from jail. Immediately after his reported escape, Palestinian police launched a massive manhunt, conducting house-to-house searches and imposing a curfew on Jericho. It was the first time that Palestinian police had taken such measures in a town controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) since the arrival of President Yasser Arafat in self-rule areas in 1994….

Awadallah, 29, is a leading figure in… the military wing of Hamas. He was arrested by Palestinian police in April and accused of killing one of Israel’s most wanted men, Hamas bomb-maker Mohieddine Al-Sharif.

While Hamas held Israel responsible for Al-Sharif’s car bomb assassination in front of his home in Gaza, the PA claimed that he was killed by Awadallah as part of an internal dispute in the militant organisation. Hamas denied the charge and claimed that elements within the PA had collaborated with Israel.

Awadallah escaped from a prison controlled by one of Arafat’s several security bodies, the Preventive Security, headed by former Intifada activist Jibril Al-Rajoub. According to PA sources, Awadallah allegedly received assistance from a prison officer with the rank of captain who was sympathetic to the militant group and its military struggle against Israel.

Hamas spokesman in Gaza Mahmoud Al-Zahhar told the Weekly that the group was considering the possibilities that Awadallah might have escaped from prison or that he might have been killed, “in which case we will hold Israel and its agents present everywhere responsible for his death.” Al-Zahhar added that killing Awadallah would help hide any evidence uncovered in the investigation of Al-Sharif’s assassination, and the possible role of Israeli agents within the PA. Awadallah was reportedly with Al-Sharif in the same house when he was killed and is considered a key witness in the investigation, Al-Zahhar said.

But the Hamas spokesman said that it was also possible that Awadallah received assistance from a PA officer in order to escape. “There are some individuals within the PA bodies who sympathise with Awadallah and who are certain that he was not involved in Al-Sharif’s killing.” He also reiterated claims by Hamas that Awadallah was tortured while in PA custody, prompting him to escape. Zahhar warned that if Awadallah’s disappearance has been the result of a conspiracy, “it would seriously endanger internal Palestinian unity.”

Some PA officials were quoted as saying that, before arriving in self-rule areas, they thought of Hamas as a monster, but later changed their mind after realising that the group was much weaker than originally thought; “as scary as a cat”, some said. Still, there are fears that the moderate elements within Hamas cannot continue to keep the hard-liners at bay, particularly if it is proven that Awadallah was killed.

If this is true, some observers believe the PA is trying to improve relations with Hamas and nullify its charges that Al-Sharif was killed by Awadallah. The PA, they say, will allow Awadallah to live in hiding as long as the militant group pledges not to carry out any suicide attacks against Israel. But until Awadallah is found, dead or alive, the many questions surrounding his mysterious escape will remain unanswered.

American Connection
by Khaled Dawoud


Unlike many Saudi Arabians whose support for the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was purely financial, Osama Bin Laden, the son of a construction magnate, personally joined the fight, gaining a reputation for bravery. As a result he was crowned uncontested leader of the Arab-Afghans, thousands of young men from all over the Arab and Islamic world who travelled to Afghanistan to take part in the war against the Soviets. They received generous assistance from the US, Pakistan, oil-rich Arab Gulf countries and the late President Anwar El-Sadat.

His reputation for bravery has turned Bin Laden, now in his 40s, into a saint-like figure for thousands of followers. And in the few interviews he has granted Bin Laden is fond of recounting how the strength of his belief in God and the cause he was fighting for helped him survive many dangerous situations.

[A]n Egyptian veteran of the Afghan war recounted to Al-Ahram Weekly:
… “I saw this with my own two eyes. A Russian plane was flying over us, dropping bombs. Then, one of our brothers lifted a handful of sand and threw it in the direction of the plane. It fell down in flames. Angels were fighting on our side.”

“As Muslims, we believe that when we die, we go to heaven. Before a battle, God sends us saqina, tranquillity,” Bin Laden said in his interview with the Independent.

Bin Laden used his millions to buy bulldozers to blast massive tunnels in the Zazi Mountains of Bakhtiar province and build guerrilla hospitals and military warehouses. He also used the money to bring in, by his count, thousands of Egyptians, Algerians, Palestinians, Yemenis, Jordanians and Lebanese to join their Afghan Muslim “brothers” in the struggle to end Soviet occupation.

Ironically, the camp of Khost where Bin Laden is believed to be based and which was targeted by US missiles… was built with the help of the CIA, according to US intelligence sources.

… The late President Anwar El-Sadat also encouraged growing fundamentalist groups, nurtured to quell the leftist opposition in Egypt, to send fighters to Afghanistan. The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which controlled several professional syndicates, was particularly active in this connection. Doctors, such as Jihad leader Ayman El-Zawahri, engineers, lawyers and teachers were among the Egyptians who left for Afghanistan. There, they not only fought against the Russians but also developed the ideology of an international Islamist movement whose warriors are keen to fight for any cause they deem “Islamic,” regardless of their different nationalities and backgrounds.

As a result, after the war against the Soviets ended and the Afghan warlords turned their arms against each other in a bitter power struggle, the Arab-Afghans headed to Bosnia to fight against the Serbs in 1992 and 1993. They also took part in the fighting in Chechnya and Tajikistan against Russia and are now reportedly taking part in the ongoing battles in Kosovo between Serbs and the Muslim Albanian minority. They also fought in Somalia against US troops and are reportedly assisting fundamentalist groups on the rise in a number of African countries, particularly those neighbouring Sudan.

According to experts, the network of Arab-Afghans headed by Bin Laden has a presence in nearly all Arab countries and has extended as far as the Philippines, where they are assisting a Muslim minority fighting for self-determination.

After the Afghan war was over in 1992, Bin Laden returned home, but the Saudi government, fearing his extremist ideology, stripped him of Saudi citizenship in April 1994 for “irresponsible behaviour”.

But Bin Laden was already in Sudan, where he was given shelter by Khartoum’s fundamentalist government.

With Western pressure mounting on Khartoum, and after escaping an assassination attempt at a mosque in the capital, he was forced to leave in 1995, reportedly with 100 followers. He returned to Afghanistan where he has been living as a “guest” of the fundamentalist Taliban militia.

Since then, he has declared that the US is the Muslim world’s foremost enemy. Bin Laden believes that US troops protecting the oil-fields of his homeland since the 1991 second Gulf War are desecrating Muslim holy sites by their very presence. He also believes that American power has emasculated Arab countries, turning them into client states.

[W]hen Bin Laden announced the formation of the “International Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders” from his hideout in Afghanistan last February, the announcement did not cause much concern in Washington which was, in any case, more concerned at the time with Saddam Hussein’s failure to cooperate with UN weapons’ inspectors.

The US, which had earlier suggested that Iran might have been behind 1995 and 1996 Al-Khobar and Riyadh bombings in Saudi Arabia, now blames Bin Laden for the two bombings in which 23 American soldiers were killed and the Saudi dissident, through his spokesman, has accepted responsibility for “what happened in Saudi Arabia.”

Now, the US is discovering the bitter harvest of the seeds it sowed when it adopted a policy of fighting the Russians by proxy. And the “Arab-Afghans” have inevitably turned their weapons against their former sponsor.

Hostage to Expansion
by Yehya Ghanem


An informed Afghani source living in Islamabad told Al-Ahram Weekly that Asian republics surrounding Afghanistan, which had constituted part of the Soviet Union in the past, are fearful for a number of reasons. For one thing, the sweeping victory of the Taliban over the opposition alliance in the north has consolidated Taliban rule over vast areas stretching as far as the borders with Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan, each of which is concerned to deter the advance of the fundamentalist Islamist movement across its borders. The republics are terrified of the infiltration of extremist Afghani elements into their respective territories, and rumours are already rife about contacts between the extremist elements and the opposition militia in those republics.

“There was implicit approval by the US to allow the Taliban to expand their military operations, and to tighten their control over all parts of Afghanistan, which is specifically what the warring factions in Afghanistan had failed to do in 1992,” the source noted. “The aim was to secure the safety of the oil pipeline from the production fields in Turkmenistan, travelling from the northern to the southern borders of Afghanistan and across Pakistan to the port of Karachi.” However, US efforts to mediate between the Taliban and opposition factions, which took place last June, came to a deadlock, mainly due to the hard-line political position adopted by the Taliban, emboldened by military conquests that have brought 90 per cent of Afghani territory under their control.”

The limits of Taliban expansion Washington was willing to sanction have not, though, been respected by the movement. Russia reacted by sending messages on its own behalf to the Asian republics and to the US, insisting it was not going to tolerate an Islamic fundamentalist threat to its soft belly in the Central Asian Islamic republics.

It is against this backdrop that the US extended its offer to the Taliban, two weeks before the embassy bombings took place, offering official recognition in return for the extradition of Bin Laden to the US. Fearing that he may be sacrificed as part of a deal with the US, Bin Laden might possibly have breached his agreement with the Taliban, which allowed him to issue threats from time to time but at the same time to refrain from staging any operations on the ground.

It appears logical that extraditing Bin Laden to the US is only a first step in a process that would result in the liquidation of Arab-Afghan leaders in Afghanistan.

… Despite being a long time ally and a companion in arms of the Taliban, the financier behind several Taliban arms deals and the sponsor of development schemes in various areas under Taliban rule, the current regime seems anxious to be relieved of the burden Bin Laden represents. The Taliban may well be willing to deliver Bin Laden to the US, though in return they would expect tacit US approval for Taliban military expansion to the outskirts of the Asian republics.