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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 13:16 GMT
Meeting Taleban's foreign fighters
Captured foreign fighters
Foreign Taleban fighters are thought to number more than 10,000
Marcus George

With the surrender of Kunduz appearing imminent, there are fears for the safety of thousands of foreign volunteers allied to the Taleban still trapped in the city.

Marcus George visited Taloqan prison, east of Kunduz, and spoke with two foreign fighters captured in the last few days.

The door swung open and I was greeted by the head guard, who was suited and booted in a brand new military uniform.

More than 20 Taleban were sitting in the courtyard enjoying the sun.

If the Americans continue bombing in Afghanistan the jihad will continue and I will have carry on

Maqsud Ali, foreign prisoner
I was introduced to Maqsud Ali, a fighter from Peshawar, in north-western Pakistan, who had been ordered to join the "jihad" by the mullah at his madrassa (religious school).

He sat quietly but was responsive to my questions.

He gave his answers slowly, perhaps to lengthen the amount of time he was allowed out of his makeshift cell - a rusting red container with holes punched in its sides.

"The mullahs in Pakistan told people that infidels are fighting the Muslims and they sent me to Afghanistan. I had to fight alongside the Taleban to continue the jihad against the Americans.

"This is my first time fighting in a war. I was near Taloqan in a village which was occupied by the Taleban when I was captured.

"There are a lot of Pakistani groups in Kunduz. They are working within the structure of their political parties and don't really collaborate with other groups."

'Jihad will continue'

If Maqsud Ali was one of the zealous foreign Muslims that we are led to believe have hijacked the Afghan conflict he was not showing it.

"Most of all I'd like to go home to continue my Islamic education.

Foreign prisoner
Foreign fighters come from countries including Pakistan, Chechnya and Saudi Arabia

"As for the other foreigners, they should all surrender. There should be no more fighting.

"If the conflict is a civil conflict in Afghanistan, I will stop fighting and go home. But if the Americans continue bombing in Afghanistan the jihad (holy war) will continue and I will have carry on."

Sawaliah Jan, another Taleban fighter, told me Osama Bin Laden was a great war hero.

"He fights against America for the interests of Islam.

"But I'm fighting for my religion and will give my life if I have to."

He told me he had spent several years in a madrassa in Saudi Arabia and had worked in Dubai and Oman.

Whenever you infidels come to fight against Muslims I will join the battle

Sawaliah Jan, foreign prisoner

The prison authorities said he was an Arab and a member of al-Qaeda.

He denied this and said he was from Khost province in eastern Afghanistan.

"There are four important religions", he told me.

"But the most important of them is Islam.

"The American bombing is killing Muslims. We have no fight with other Afghan Muslims. But this bombing cannot be accepted.

"I want peace to return to Afghanistan. I don't know who is right or wrong in this war but I know I should help those who are fighting for Sharia (Islamic) law."

By the time I left the prison he had preached to me about the infidelity of America.

"Whenever you infidels come to fight against Muslims I will join the battle," he said, with a broad grin across his face.

Taleban sympathisers

There is little solid information about the foreign fighters in and around Kunduz.

The Northern Alliance has stated that they number more than 10,000 fighters, from Pakistan, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia and even Burma.

Northern Alliance soldier outisde Kunduz
The Northern Alliance says its amnesty will not apply to pro-Taleban foreigners in Kunduz

They claim that 1,000 of these are al-Qaeda soldiers, under the command of one of the organisation's most prominent commanders, Omar Khata.

General Daoud, the Northern Alliance commander in the north-eastern region, claimed foreign fighters are responsible for the execution of nearly 500 Afghan Taleban who had wanted to join forces with the anti-Taleban front.

One prominent Taleban commander, Nizamuddin, from Kandahar, was executed after planning to defect, it is believed.

Reports from people who recently left Kunduz suggest there are only 6,000 to 7,000 foreign fighters.

The only way to secure your rights in Afghanistan is by using force

Taloqan chief of police

And in an interview with the BBC, the governor of Kunduz, Mullah Dadiullah, said there were no Chechens or Arabs in the region.

As I left, the prisoners were ordered back into the grimy, fetid cell.

The Taleban are on the verge of agreeing to hand over Kunduz to the Northern Alliance.

Alliance troops are reported to be already moving forward, poised to take control of the province.

But no-one knows what future lies ahead for the foreign fighters.

"Negotiations are a waste of time," the chief of police in Taloqan told me.

In an ominous sign of a potential bloodbath, he said the alliance should move now.

"The only way to secure your rights in Afghanistan is by using force."

See also:

22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kunduz close to surrender
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan severs Taleban ties
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
US offers bombing pause
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan talks switch to Bonn
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Q&A: What will Afghan talks produce?
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghans flee Kunduz
15 Nov 01 | South Asia
Northern town returns to life
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