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Wednesday, September 15, 2004


One of the most senior al-Qaida commanders, Tahir Yuldash, has spoken for the first time since he went underground in 2001. Former BBC Kabul correspondent Kate Clark investigates....

The BBC has obtained a film of Tahir Yuldash, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, in which he warns the United States that its days are numbered.

In the film, Yuldash looks healthy and relaxed, despite having been on the run for the last three years. This spring, the Pakistani army announced it was close to capturing him during a massive offensive in one of the tribal areas along the Afghan border. They later admitted he had escaped but said he had been severely wounded. The film is proof that Yuldash escaped unharmed because he refers to several recent events. 

Yuldash admits he's lost scores of men, but says foreign militants, including Osama Bin Laden, still remember their oaths of allegiance to the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, and are ready to die for him.
Referring to the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, he warns America that it faces collapse and calls on believers to remember that the mujahadeen resistance against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan twenty years ago ended up bringing down the USSR.

Yuldash was always an important ideologue in the Islamist internationale, but his influence is more than rhetorical. In eastern Afghanistan across the border from his probable hiding place, there have been repeated attacks on government officials, elections workers and American soldiers: most people believe foreign fighters are playing a leading role.

Yuldash's message is directed at those across the region who are angry with America, but he reserves special vitriol for those now in power in Kabul. He speaks in Persian for the first time and tries to answer some of the Taliban's critics. The Islamic Emirate, as the Taliban called their state, was not a vehicle for Pashtun power, he insists, although as they were the group who sacrificed the most, it was right that they should also benefit. Proof that the state was truly Islamic, he says, came in the way that non-Afghans were treated better than locals and the fact that Mullah Omar was prepared to sacrifice everything for the sake of one Muslim, Osama Bin Laden.

As Afghanistan prepares to hold presidential elections on October 9th, a senior al-Qaida figure has warned America, that, like the Soviet Union, it will be brought down.  In the film, Yuldash says he is still fighting in the service of the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. He says all the foreign fighters, including Osama Bin Laden, have sworn alliegence to Omar. Before the fall of the Taliban, Yuldash ran extensive training camps and was eventually given command of all the Central Asian fighters there. After the fall of the Taliban, he went underground and narrowly escaped capture by Pakistan in a much trumpeted offensive this spring. This is the first time Yuldash has spoken since 2001.
Yuldash says :"No-one thought the Soviet Union would collapse. And no-one thinks America will ever be defeated. But I'm telling you now, that in the very near future, all Muslims will witness the collapse of America. God willing, it will be like Vietnam and Korea where they lost a hundred thousand people. Because every day, we're killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan."

I first encountered Yuldash's fighters in northern Afghanistan in 2000. Russia was threatening to bomb his training camps at the time, the Taliban denied their existence, and I went to investigate. I was detained at one of the camps, my equipment and film confiscated and the Taliban threatened to arrest my Afghan staff if I reported the story. Here, in this film is archive footage from the same month of those secret training camps - which were later bombed by the Americans. In the film Yuldash, makes clear that the inspiration and the networks of the international Islamist brigade forged in Afghanistan, are still strong.

Yuldash was always close to Osama Bin Laden. A senior Taliban aide told me he warned him about the 9/11 attacks when even Taliban ministers were kept in the dark. But Yuldash's allegience is now to the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. He calls him the Amir, the commander of the faithful, the man who proved his pre-eminence as an Islamic leader by being prepared to sacrifice his rule for just one believer. Yuldash says that anyone calling himself a believer should know that Mullah Omar is their leader.

For the Americans and the Kabul government of President Karzai preparing for elections on 9th October, Tahir Yuldash's public re-appearance will not be welcome. The Taliban and their foreign allies have threatened the candidates and indeed anyone who casts a vote. Across the border, Pakistan is again claiming to be close to capturing the militant leader, but for now, this footage of Yuldash, confidently agressive despite three years on the run, is quite chilling.

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