Recruits promised booty on Earth, virgins in the next

Saifullah was tired of his exhausting job as a blacksmith in a Pakistani village when a friend suggested he join the jihad, or holy war, against United States troops in Afghanistan.

The 20-year-old, who shared a simple mud-brick house with his father, mother and a brother, told Agence France-Presse he wasn’t sure whether to accept the call to fight in the country of his forefathers or to continue with his hammer and anvil.

“If you kill one American soldier, then you can keep his money, his gun, boots and clothes,” he recalled his friend saying.

“And if I die?” Saifullah said he asked of the young man, himself a recruit of Taliban commander Mullah Samad who is said to be close to the fugitive leader of the ousted extremist Taliban regime, Mullah Omar.

“If you die, you will get seven virgin ‘houris’ in paradise,” the man said, referring to the virgin angels the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, says awaits good Muslims, especially martyrs, when they die.

“I accepted,” Saifullah said on Tuesday from his hospital bed in the dusty Afghan border town of Spin Boldak hours after being shot in the legs in a clash with Afghan tribesmen.

He and nine other Taliban recruits—all descendants of Afghan refugees in Pakistan—were attacked late on Monday by the chief of Loy Kariz village, about 50km from Spin Boldak, and his men.

They had been in the village under the command of Mullah Samad to look for and kill US troops and their “spies”. They had also set up roadblocks to interrogate clean-shaven men and confiscate cassettes, in line with the Taliban’s doctrine that shaving and listening to music are “un-Islamic”.

Two of Saifullah’s comrades were killed in the clash. His own dreams were shattered when his injured hands were tied behind his back and he and another wounded fighter were handed over to Afghan security forces.

The young blacksmith’s experience of jihad had lasted 72 hours from the time of his recruitment.

Abdul Wasey Alakozai, the police chief of Spin Boldak, said one of the rebels had detonated a grenade at his feet, in a suicide attack, when he realised he would be arrested.

The rebel and a villager were killed and 14 other locals were wounded, Alakozai said.

The incident is a rare example of villagers taking on the Taliban, who are leading a guerrilla-style insurgency plaguing southern and eastern Afghanistan almost since the hardliners were overthrown in a United States-led invasion in late 2001.

The regime was toppled after it refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on US cities.

Most of the ousted government and its al-Qaeda allies fled to Pakistan, according to Afghan officials.

Since then, they have been crossing the poorly controlled 2 400km border to carry out attacks on Afghan and foreign targets inside Afghanistan.

“Mullah Samad gave me a gun on the border,” recalled Saifullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name. He and the others walked 48 hours to reach Loya Kariz village, he said.

Alakozai and Asadullah Khalid, governor of Kandahar province which includes Spin Boldak, admitted they did not have enough security forces to control the rugged border.

But Khalid also blamed Pakistan for propping up the militants. “They have training facilities in Pakistan and are being supported down there,” he said in Kandahar.

To support his claims, the governor said three of about 20 suspected rebels arrested in recent days for allegedly plotting attacks were Pakistani citizens.

He said they were planning suicide attacks—which have spiked in Afghanistan with at least 20 in the past four months in a trend analysts say shows rebels have adopted Iraq-style tactics.

On January 15, a senior Canadian diplomat was killed and three Canadian soldiers were injured in a suicide attack in Kandahar.

The governor said the Taliban fighters had some support among Afghans in villages along the border, although this was low.

From his hospital bed, the body of one of his slain fellow recruits nearby, Saifullah agreed, saying his band of men had no problem moving through the area until they were stopped by the village chief and his men.

Mullah Samad had even been allowed to use a loudspeaker atop the Loya Kariz mosque to call people to jihad. He remembered the message as: “Join us in jihad. If you don’t join us, God will punish you.” - AFP

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