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Saturday, 15 December, 2001, 18:24 GMT
Afghanistan's Arab fighters
Al-Jazeera TV image of one Bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan
Thousands of Arabs are believed to be in Afghanistan
By the BBC's Kim Ghattas in Salt, Jordan

Arab Afghans fighting alongside the Taleban have been in the spotlight since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.

They have become a target of the hatred of the anti-Taleban forces and the local Afghan population.


All Muslims have to go to the jihad

Abu Raed
Arabs first started going to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets during the 1980s. Today the Arab mujahideen find themselves on the losing side.

Abu Raed, father of Raed Khreisat, hesitates when he is asked what he thinks of his son dying in the jihad.

He feels sorry for his daughter-in-law, a widow at 30, pregnant with twins and already mother of five children.

"But all Muslims have to go to the jihad," says the 54-year-old vegetable seller.

Unknown destination

Raed was one of six men from the town of Salt, north of Amman, who left one day in 1999 to join other mujahideen. Four of them have already died.

Raed first went to Chechnya, to fight with fellow Muslims against the Russians.

Osama Bin Laden
The old generation of mujahideen has little to do with Osama Bin Laden
Abu Raed does not know where his son went after that.

Then one day seven months ago, Raed's wife left with the children.

"If I knew where she was going I would never have let her go," says Abu Raed.

He will not give the name of his daughter-in-law and she refuses to talk to the press.

But according to what she has told Abu Raed, during the time she was away, she lived in Afghanistan with her children and her husband, who stayed away long periods of time.

Extensive network

Raed died on 4 October, before the US strikes against Afghanistan started.

Jordanian authorities believe he died in Iraqi Kurdistan, fighting alongside Jund el Islam, an Islamic group believed to have links with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation.


More Arabs joined the jihad after 1998, when Osama Bin Laden declared a jihad against crusaders and Jews

This is perhaps a glimpse of a network that extends way beyond Afghanistan.

Except for hundreds of Pakistanis who joined the Taleban mostly after 11 September, most foreign fighters in Afghanistan are Arabs.

Different generations

Muslims from the Middle East first started going to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets during the 1980s.

They were encouraged by their governments, who were keen to get rid of Islamists at home.

Northern Alliance fighters
Anti-Taleban forces in Afghanistan have targeted foreign fighters
Many were not allowed back to their country and some settled in Afghanistan, with their families, because they believed that with the Taleban in power it was the only true Muslim country.

More Arabs joined the jihad after 1998, when Osama Bin Laden declared a "holy war against crusaders and Jews".

Experts differentiate between the old waves of Arab Afghans and the more recent one, saying the old generation has little to do with Osama Bin Laden.

Warning

Today an estimated 150 Jordanians are thought to be among anywhere between 7,000 and 16,000 Arabs in Afghanistan.

Around 2,000 Arabs are believed to be fighting with al-Qaeda itself.

Commentators in the region have criticised Arab governments for not working on securing a surrender deal for their citizens.

Whatever the Arab fighters are responsible for, say the commentators, they should be given a fair trial.

They also warn that hard core Arab fighters, now even more bitter at the US, will be trying to escape through Pakistan and to get in touch with al-Qaeda cells in other parts of the world.

See also:

15 Dec 01 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda fighters 'head for Pakistan'
14 Dec 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden tape divides world
12 Dec 01 | South Asia
Red Cross probes Taleban deaths
16 Oct 01 | Middle East
Analysis: The roots of jihad
14 Dec 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's tribal frontiers
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