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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Al-Qaeda-Taleban tensions revealed
Bin Laden's men did not feel at home in Afghanistan
Al-Qaeda militants based in Afghanistan before the US offensive often expressed frustration about their hosts, and criticised everything from "bad food" to "technological backwardness", according to the Wall Street Journal.


This place is worse than a tomb

Egyptian militant in Afghanistan
The militants wrote home to complain that Afghanistan was not a good place to live or work, the paper says in a report that sheds new light on tensions between Osama Bin Laden's network and the Taleban.

The report is largely based on information from a computer found by the Wall Street Journal in the capital, Kabul, last year.

The correspondence also shows that relations between al-Qaeda and Taleban leaders grew gradually worse, but improved dramatically after the 1998 US strike against Afghanistan.

Health matters

"This place is worse than a tomb," an Egyptian militant wrote to his friends back home, according to files found on the computer.

Osama bin Laden
Bin Laden "antagonised" some Taleban
The country "is not suitable for work", he added.

Another militant questioned the choice of Afghanistan as al-Qaeda's base, pointing to the country's bad roads and poor telephone lines, many of which, he said, were bugged.

"A leader cannot follow up company activities from there," the militant wrote in an Arabic-language message stored on the computer.

The "company", as activists called al Qaeda, set up a web site - but since Afghanistan did not have a server, the group had to find one in China.

A senior al-Qaeda official, Morgan al-Gohari, wrote that the Afghans "change their ideas and positions all the time" and "would do anything for money".

His letter to Ayman al-Zawahri, the organisation's second-in-command, asked: "Is it safe to live among these people? ...Can any of your work be done there in view of the lack of facilities?"

The Wall Street Journal also mentions health concerns.

"The food was always bad. People got sick," an unnamed Saudi militant who visited Afghanistan several times told the paper.

Stardom

The correspondence also highlights a growing split between Osama Bin Laden and senior Taleban leaders.

Kandahar mosque
Mullah Omar was based in Kandahar
It also shows that some al-Qaeda members blamed their own chief for antagonising the Afghan leadership.

A letter from two Syrian militants dated July 1998 said that Bin Laden had "caught the disease of [TV] screens, flashes and applause".

His "egotism" had alienated Taleban leader Mullah Omar and strengthened a "corrupt stream" within the Taleban that wanted to make a deal with the Americans.

Relations, the letter says, were so fraught that Mullah Omar had closed one al-Qaeda camp, and there was talk of shutting down all the others.

But relations between Bin Laden and the Taleban leader seem to have greatly improved later in 1998, when the United States responded to the bombing of two of its embassies in Africa by launching missiles against Afghanistan and Sudan.

The attack galvanized support for Bin Laden in Afghanistan, and hardened Mullah Omar to US and Saudi requests for Bin Laden's expulsion.


Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

04 Jul 02 | Americas
11 Mar 02 | South Asia
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