NATO: Key figure from Qaida-linked group captured

AP News
Posted: Apr 22, 2011 12:38 PM
NATO: Key figure from Qaida-linked group captured

A militant who led operations in Afghanistan for an al-Qaida-linked terror group has been captured in the north where his fighters joined forces with the Taliban to step up attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, NATO said Friday.

The senior figure from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was apprehended in Kunduz province along with two of this associates, the coalition said.

NATO described the militant, whom it did not identify, as a key conduit between the IMU's leadership in Pakistan and senior Taliban leadership in Afghanistan.

"He assisted both groups by directing insurgent movement for training and operations between the two countries, coordinating suicide, explosive device and mortar attacks against Afghan and coalition forces throughout northern Afghanistan," the coalition said in a statement. "He escaped from a Pakistan prison in 2010 and also assisted others in escaping from incarceration, including paying bribes for their release."

Afghan and coalition forces had been tracking the IMU leader for several weeks. On Wednesday, they launched operations in Khan Abad district, capturing the leader and one of his associates. Another individual with suspected ties to the IMU network was captured nearby.

In the past 50 days, NATO said its troops partnered with Afghan forces have killed more than 20 insurgents affiliated with IMU. Four were senior leaders of the group, including Bilal Konduzi, the former IMU leader in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the U.S. handed over to Germany a suspected IMU member whose information provided to U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan led authorities across the world to issue terror warnings for Europe last year. U.S. troops captured Ahmad Wali Siddiqui, a German national of Afghan descent, in Afghanistan in July 2010. While in custody, he provided details on alleged plots linked to al-Qaida supposedly targeting European cities.

Kunduz and surrounding provinces are known hide-outs for the Taliban, al-Qaida and fighters from militant factions that include the Haqqani network, Hizb-i-Islami and the IMU, which aims to create an Islamic state across Central Asia. The province is also a major agricultural and transit center along a main highway used by NATO supply convoys.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was formed in 1991, originally aiming to set up an Islamic state in Uzbekistan, which neighbors Afghanistan, but it later expanded its goal to seeking one across Central Asia. Aligning itself with al-Qaida, it has been most active in the northern provinces of Afghanistan.

In other incidents across Afghanistan, an insurgent attack on Friday killed a NATO service member in the east, bringing to 128 the number of coalition troops killed so far this year. On Thursday, a roadside bomb killed five Afghan border policemen in southern Afghanistan and the nephew of an Afghan warlord was reportedly killed in fighting southwest of Kabul.

Gen. Abdul Raziq, chief of the Afghan border police in Kandahar province, said the five border policemen were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Spin Boldak district along the Pakistan border.

In Wardak province, the nephew of insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was killed in fighting, according to Harun Zarghun, a spokesman for the Hizb-i-Islami insurgent group.

His nephew, Habibullah Shoab Hekmatyar, a 17-year-old former student in Peshawar, Pakistan, joined the fight against international forces in Wardak. He was killed in a coalition airstrike along with one of his colleagues in Nirkh district, Zarghun said.

NATO confirmed that there was a coalition airstrike Thursday in Nirkh, but could not confirm if Hekmatyar's nephew was among four who were killed.


Associated Press Writers Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.