KABUL: The founder of the Haqqani network, one of Afghanistan’s most effective and feared militant groups, has died after a long illness, their affiliates the Afghan Taliban has announced. Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose son Sirajuddin Haqqani now heads the brutal group and is also the Taliban’s deputy leader, died “after a long battle with illness”, the Taliban said in a statement.
Jalaluddin “was from among the great distinguished Jihadi personalities of this era”, the Taliban said in a statement posted on Twitter. During the 1980s the Haqqani figurehead was an Afghan Mujahideen commander fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with the help of the US and Pakistan. He gained notoriety for his organization and bravery, garnering attention from the CIA and a personal visit from US congressman Charlie Wilson.
A fluent Arabic speaker, Jalaluddin also fostered close ties with Arab jihadists including Osama Bin Laden who flocked to the region during the war. Later, Jalaluddin became a minister in the Taliban regime. It was not clear when or where he died. At various times in recent years there have been rumors of his death. Given the already leading role played by his son, it is not clear what Jalaluddin’s demise will mean for the extremist group.
The Haqqani network has been blamed for spectacular attacks across Afghanistan since the US invasion. It is also widely believed to have been behind many of the recent attacks in the capital Kabul that were claimed by the local wing of the Islamic State group. Long suspected of links to Pakistan’s shadowy military establishment, the Haqqani network was described by US Admiral Mike Mullen in 2011 as a “veritable arm” of Pakistani intelligence.
Designated a terrorist group by the US, the Haqqanis are known for their heavy use of suicide bombers. They were blamed for the truck bomb in the heart of Kabul in May 2017 that killed around 150 people – though Sirajuddin later denied the accusation in a rare audio message. The network has also been accused of assassinating top Afghan officials and holding kidnapped Westerners for ransom.
They includes the Canadian Joshua Boyle, his American wife Caitlan Coleman, and their three children – all born in captivity – who were released last year, as well as US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was freed in 2014. Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin was running the group “with major ISI involvement”, a foreign diplomat in Kabul told AFP, referring to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence. “I doubt anything will change,” he said. PTI