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Tuesday, 18 September, 2001, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Bin Laden's Afghan victims
Afghan refugees
Refugees say their villages have been burnt
The BBC Afghanistan correspondent, Kate Clark, hears evidence that Muslim Afghans have also been victims of Osama Bin Laden's forces.

Osama Bin Laden was given refuge in Afghanistan before the Taleban took power but they have wholeheartedly supported him since.

What kind of Islam is this? They came to our area, burnt the mosque and the Korans inside. They call themselves Muslims, but look at their system.

Afghan villager

And he has supported them - supplying thousands of Arab fighters to fight in the Afghan civil war - what the Taleban and their supporters call a jihad.

The Arabs, along with Pakistani militants and Afghans from the Taleban's heartland in the south are the crack troops in a war which has increasingly turned on civilians.

Scorched earth policy

All summer, I've been hearing reports from Afghan refugees that the Taleban have started a new policy of burning villages and killing civilians in the centre, north and west of the country - allegations of a scorched earth policy intended to wipe out resistance.

Taleban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef
Refugees' allegations are 'opposition propaganda'

Refugees say the Taleban are using special forces - a mix of Afghans from the south, Pakistani militants and Arab followers of Osama Bin Laden.

The Taleban have banned me from going into Afghanistan. But film just smuggled out of the country backs up the refugees' stories.

The film contains scores of interviews with villagers who have fled to the mountains and numerous images of the places they once called home - houses, schools, mosques and bazaars - all burned.

One man showed pictures of the charred remains of a Koran. "What kind of Islam is this? Does Islam allow the burning of the Holy Koran? This is a holy text.

"They came to our area, burnt the mosque and the Korans inside. They call themselves Muslims, but look at their system."

Nothing to go back to

Many villagers have fled to the mountains - the high pastures where people normally take animals for grazing in the summer.

"We're stuck here, just depending on God. Our house has been burned and we don't have any crops. We're now staring winter in the face. We don't know what we're going to do. We've got nothing to go back to."

Afghan refugees queue for aid
Villagers have been forced to flee their homes

When I travelled through some of these areas a year ago, what was striking was that people had been reasonably happy with the Taleban.

But when opposition fighters attacked the Taleban this year, the Taleban responded by targeting civilians who were from the same ethnic groups as the opposition.

Men like Obaidullah - who was a teacher - have been forced to become mujahedeen.

"The duty of a teacher is to teach, to bring wisdom. But when they've destroyed all the schools, books, materials, teachers are forced to take up kalashnikovs and accept the duty of jihad," he said.

Arab recruits

Eyewitnesses say the Taleban are using foreigners for these operations.

Mushriq used to fight with the Taleban until he was captured by the opposition earlier this year.

Maybe the world is not so concerned about the killing of Afghans, but when they cross the border, the world will have to take notice

Afghan opposition commander Mohaqiq

"The Taleban themselves told me they were taking the Arabs into Yakowlang to kill people, because they themselves weren't cruel enough," he said.

In reality, though, Afghan Taleban are always in charge.

The Taleban ambassador to Pakistan is Abdul Salam Zaeef. He denies they have a scorched earth policy.

"This is totally an act by the opposition, propaganda done by them, when ever they do something, they blame us," he said. "We have never done such things. Wherever there is peace and security, it's the opposition that tries to destroy it."

World indifference

Every faction in this long-running civil war has committed human rights abuses.

But since 1997, almost all the accusations have been levelled against the Taleban. And so far they are only faction to employ foreigners against their own people.

Taleban fighters sitting on a Russian-made tank
Bin Laden has supplied thousands of fighters

Mohaqiq, an opposition commander from the Shia party, Hizbe Wahdat gave this interview two weeks ago:

"The indifference to these incidents will not just destroy life in Afghanistan, perhaps some day it will destroy life in the rest of the world. Maybe, now the world is not so concerned about the killing of Afghans, but when they cross the borders and start killing other people, the world will have to take notice."

Osama Bin Laden has urged Muslims to fight in a jihad against America.

That is an attractive message for a few - particularly idealistic, angry, young men - who believe he is the one man standing up to the might of Washington.

But most of his victims have been fellow Muslims - civilians in the Afghan civil war.

Robert McNamara, former US Defense Secretary
"The Russians tried [to invade Afghanistan] and failed"
See also:

18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban discuss Bin Laden's fate
13 Sep 01 | South Asia
Kabul braces for US attack
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