Afghan forces have killed a top Al-Qaeda militant wanted by the United States, as the government on Sunday accused the Taliban of still keeping close ties with the Islamist militant group.
Abu Muhsin al-Masri, an Egyptian national believed to be the group’s number two in the Indian sub-continent, was targeted in eastern Ghazni province, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency said in a statement.
The National Directorate of Security did not provide further details about the operation or when it was carried out.
Masri’s killing was an indication of the relationship between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, Afghanistan’s Interior Minister Masoud Andarabi claimed on Sunday without providing details.
“The killing of one of the key Al-Qaeda member, al-Masri by the National Directorate of Security demonstrates close ties of the Taliban with the terrorist groups that are operating against the Afghan government and its people,” he tweeted.
“They still keep close relations with the terrorist groups and they are lying to different sides.”
BREAKING: Reports that senior #alQaeda official Abu Muhsin al-Masri (AKA Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf) killed by Afghan forces. Masri was believed to be 2nd in command under AQ leader Zawahiri & served as the organization’s media chief. No confirmation from al-Qaeda as of yet. pic.twitter.com/1JaINs7kTm
— Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz) October 24, 2020
The Taliban’s sheltering of Al-Qaeda was the original reason for the US invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
In a landmark deal with the United States in February, the Taliban agreed to not allow Afghan soil to be used by foreign extremists including Al-Qaeda, in return for Washington withdrawing its troops from the country.
Masri, who also goes by the name Husam Abd-al-Ra’uf, is on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list.
A US warrant for his arrest was issued in December 2018 after he was charged with providing support and resources to a foreign terrorist organisation and plotting to kill US nationals, according to the FBI.
‘Bodies on the Ground’
A source at the Afghan intelligence agency, who did not want to be named, told AFP that an aide to Masri who was “in contact with the Taliban” was also detained during the operation in Ghazni province, a volatile region where Taliban fighters are very active.
Pakistan-based analyst Rahimullah Yousufzai, who previously interviewed Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, said Masri was largely unknown but his killing showed that these militants still existed.
“This incident shows that Al-Qaeda’s men are few and far between, but they are still there,” he told AFP.
Masri was from the second tier of Al-Qaeda which kept him largely unknown, according to a source with a jihadi group based at an unknown location in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the death toll from a bomb blast claimed by the Islamic State group at a higher education centre in Kabul rose to 24 on Sunday — most of them students.
Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said another 57 people had been wounded in Saturday’s attack in a western district of the capital.
Students were seen on Sunday morning salvaging books from nearby accommodation that was damaged by the blast.
The explosion happened when about 800 students were studying at the centre, Baqir Rahimi, who survived the incident, told AFP.
“I had just entered the classroom when the blast occurred and it was loud and deafening,” the teenager said. “There were screams and cries for help. I rushed to the entrance gate of the centre and saw bodies lying on the ground.”
Residents in several districts of western Kabul belong to the minority Shiite Hazara community, and are often targeted by Sunni extremists of Islamic State.
The violence rages in Afghanistan as peace talks continue in Qatar between the Taliban and the Afghan government in a bid to end the country’s long-running war.