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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Iraqi Kurds fear new Islamist group
Iraqi Kurds are deeply concerned about the emergence of a new Islamist militant group, Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam). The group is suspected of having links with Osama Bin Laden. The BBC's Hiwa Osman reports.

Before its daily newscast on 26 September, KurdSat TV warned the audience that it would show "horrific pictures of victims of a massacre carried out by Jund al-Islam".

The unprecedented broadcast showed chilling images of roughly 20 mutilated bodies, some with their throats slit, others completely decapitated. The corpses were loosely laid out on the floor of a gloomy room.

Checkpoint near Halabjah
A checkpoint near Halabjah
"They used swords and machetes. They were speaking Arabic and Persian," said a woman from the village to a KurdSat reporter.

This took place during clashes on 23 September between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Jund al-Islam in a village near the city of Halabjah.

The victims "were taken by surprise by the militias of Jund al-Islam" said Adel Murad, a member of PUK leadership.

'Soldiers of Islam'

Established on 1 September 2001, Jund al-Islam is the result of a merger between a number of splinter groups that broke away, at various times, from the Islamic Unity Movement of Kurdistan (IUMK), an armed group that controlled Halabjah near the Iranian border.

Jund al-Islam declared their jihad against the "secular and apostate forces that are waiting for an opportunity to overpower Islam and the Muslims of Kurdistan; and waiting to implement the sinister plans of the Jewish, Christian and all other apostate leaders".

The images of the bodies were fabricated. No real Muslim would do such things

Ihsan Ali Abdalaziz of the IUMK

The two main parties that control the Kurdish region, the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, outlawed the groups that merged into Jund al-Islam after a series of assassinations and acts of sabotage in the main cities over the past two years.

The IUMK, which is believed to have backing from Iran, was engaged in armed clashes with the PUK during the 1990s.

After Iranian intervention, an agreement was signed in Tehran between the two sides.

After their formation, Jund al-Islam seized the villages of Tawela and Biyara near the Iranian border and introduced Taleban-style Islamic rule in the areas under their control.

Bin Laden link?

PUK premier Dr Barham Salih, who is on his way to Washington, said that the group is funded by al-Qaeda, the organisation led by Osama Bin Laden, and that 34 Kurds in the group are believed to have received training in al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan.

Mullah Ali Abdalziz
Leader of the Islamic Unity Movement Mullah Ali Abdalziz
Abu Abdel Rahman, a Syrian who had been in Afghanistan for many years, is said to be Osama Bin Laden's personal representative to the leadership of the group, according to Barham Salih.

Jund al-Islam said in their manifesto that they had been preparing themselves, in the past few years, "to carry out the sacred duty of jihad by attending military and religious training camps and stockpiling arms and ammunition".

The statement also said that they were busy building strong relations with Muslim campaigners and clergymen abroad by asking them for advice and guidance and making use of their experiences.

They used swords and machetes. They were speaking Arabic and Persian

Woman from a village that was attacked
The PUK released a list of names of Arab Afghans. It described them as leading figures of the group who train their members in assassination, in the use of explosives and other acts of sabotage.

Iranian role

After the attack 23 September, the PUK seized the the IUMK-controlled town of Halabjah, but did not oust Jund al-Islam from the villages of Tawela and Biyarah.

Sources close to the PUK told the BBC that during the clashes Iran provided Jund al-Islam with logistic support.

"The PUK can't oust them from the area," said the source. "They would go to Iran if they were attacked and the PUK can't pursue them there."

The IUMK's London representative, Ihsan Ali Abdalaziz, said that Iran is currently mediating between their group and the PUK in order for them to return to Halabjah, as is specified under the agreement reached in Tehran.

"Jund al-Islam and other groups were originally members of our movement," Abdalaziz said.

"The PUK encouraged the various splits and breakaway groups and they are reaping what they sowed."

He added: "If the PUK stops interfering in our internal affairs, Jund al-Islam will be easily contained and peace will return to the area."

Commenting on the pictures shown on KurdSat TV, Abdalaziz said: "The images of the bodies were fabricated. No real Muslim would do such things".

He also ruled out any links between the group and Osama Bin Laden.

See also:

31 Aug 01 | Middle East
Iraqi Kurds face uncertain future
05 Sep 01 | Middle East
Kurds alarm over 'smart sanctions'
15 Aug 01 | Middle East
Wired world of Iraqi Kurds
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