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Al Qaeda's Safe Havens

Short Films

Al Qaeda's Safe Havens

Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf has announced that 300 foreign, al-Qaida-linked militants have been killed by local tribesmen in a region bordering Afghanistan.

They are Pakistan's lawless tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan where al-Qaida and the Taliban retreated when the Americans drove them out of Afghanistan five years ago. The local Pushtun tribesmen have in the past been fierce supporters of the Taliban but now they've been fighting weeks of pitched battles against foreign militants loyal to al Qaida.

Journalists from the rest of Pakistan are mostly banned from the tribal areas but a group of local reporters brave the road out to the battle zone, near the town of Wana in South Waziristan.

At a bend in the mountains, masked fighters block the road. President Musharraf says these Pakistani tribesmen have 'risen against the foreigners' and killed about 300 of them - mostly Uzbeks from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Local people say far fewer.

The fighters let the reporters through. Further down the road, more tribesmen have sealed off a group of mud forts where Uzbeks had been holed up - now they are all dead, or have fled.

Battlefield tour

The fighters take the reporters on a tour of the battlefield. They say these forts were bases from which the Uzbeks terrorised local people and show off a warren of tunnels that were used as dungeons. When they won the battle, they freed the last handful of prisoners.

They were held here for three to four days and got only a small amount of food.

The Pakistani government says these battles are the result of deals it has made over the last two years with its Pushtun tribes. But tribal leaders in South Waziristan say they took on the Uzbeks simply because they were behaving like criminals and bandits.

The commander Hanan: "I swear by the Koran, we did not move against them at the request of the government. The reason is their activities.

"For the last three or four years, we have treated them as guests for the sake of Allah. But when people leave the path of God and start killing people just because they won't give them shelter or money, this is cruelty which we cannot accept." So whatever President Musharraf might say, it's far from clear whether these men have turned against the Taliban - the fighting might just be the result of clan rivalries within the Taliban.

What's not in doubt is the importance of these safe havens in Pakistan to the resurgence of al Qaida and the Taliban. This propaganda video recently distributed by al Qaida shows Arabic-speaking volunteers training in a landscape which looks very much like the tribal areas of North or South Waziristan.

The message of the video is that al Qaida's training camps are open for business again and looking for recruits from all across the Muslim world. It is also in this border area - we're not quite sure which side of the border - that the rising star of the new Taliban, Mullah Dadullah, is recruiting and training suicide bombers by the hundred.

Every one of these young men with a white strip of cloth round his head has signed up for what we call suicide and they call martyrdom.

Dadallah has watched suicide bombing reduce Iraq to chaos and is determined to import the tactic to Afghanistan on a massive scale.

Volunteers

Mullah Dadullah said: "Our resources against the infidels are limited, because all the infidels have united and are dedicating to destroying the Muslims and using all their advanced technologies against Islam."

"But I am telling you, your technology is the most successful. You have converted your guts, your bellies, your flesh and bones into nuclear weapons. We don't need anything else."

Volunteers stream up to register their names for death. These volunteers will have their turn in the next two to three years.

"The reason we register them is to prepare them mentally to carry out their mission even in America, and even if we ourselves die. "They will carry out attacks such as you have never experienced before."

An Afghan journalist filming for us managed to meet one of the suicide volunteers deep inside Afghanistan, in the central province of Ghazni. Mohammad Asim was 25, with two children. His comments reinforce the message that the new Taliban see themselves very much as part of the global jihad.

He said: "We were 500 people from many different Islamic countries who went through this training. This even included Muslims from America and Britain who registered themselves for suicide bombing and got trained."

Minutes after the interview, Asim gets the call. It's the order to go. He doesn't hesitate. He puts on a jacket packed with explosives, wires poking out of his pocket ready to connect to the detonator. He says farewell to his commander and heads out.

Sooner or later, some of these volunteers may be on their way to bomb London or New York. So this almost unreported war in Pakistan's tribal areas is critical for Western security. In South Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal fighters have taken on foreign militants.

But just a few miles to the east in the town of Tank, Pakistani tribesmen loyal to the Taliban are threatening to crippled the local government. In late March, 300 to 400 Taliban fighters attacked two bank branches, a government security compound, a college and government offices.

Police commander Mumtaz Zarin said: "These are militants who call themselves extremists. They want to create a parallel administration. But the government's authority will continue and we appeal to people to cooperate with the government." NATO forces are tied down fighting the Taliban across large swathes of Afghanistan and Britain and America are still on high alert against suicide attacks on their own territory.

It's hard to see how these threats can ever be defeated unless Pakistan can deny the Taliban and al Qaida their safe havens in the Pakistani mountains.

TX Channel 4 News April 2007