German intelligence on alert for extremists travelling to Afghanistan

Intelligence chief says Al Qaeda could establish new training camps in country

Pakistani security officials patrol at the country's border with Afghanistan. EPA
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German security services are bracing themselves for the possibility of extremists in Europe travelling to Afghanistan to fight or train with Al Qaeda.

Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, said the Taliban’s return to power had made Afghanistan a potential focal point for extremists around the world.

In a speech in London, he also raised the concern that Afghan terrorist branch ISIS-K, an enemy of the Taliban which has carried out a series of atrocities in the country, could inspire attacks in Europe.

The Taliban made assurances after returning to power that they would not give a safe haven to terrorists, as they did during their 1996-2001 rule that culminated in Al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks on the US.

But their talk of a more moderate Taliban rule has been undermined by killings of former western-backed security forces and the reintroduction of strict laws affecting women and girls.

Mr Kahl said Al Qaeda remained closely linked to the Taliban and would be able to operate more freely in Afghanistan in future, and could seek to re-establish training camps in the country.

He told a London School of Economics event that both Al Qaeda and ISIS-K had profited from the departure of international troops and the security services of the former Afghan government.

In addition, extremists linked to Al Qaeda were “celebrating worldwide” after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan.

“That could make Afghanistan attractive for extremist volunteers because the re-establishment of the Islamic Emirate has a high symbolic value in this scene,” he said.

“We must watch closely to see whether there are onward journeys from other extremist hotspots or even outward journeys from Europe to Afghanistan.”

Armed Taliban fighters inspect the scene of an operation against ISIS-K militants on the outskirts of Kabul. EPA

About 5,000 fighters from Europe are estimated to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS at its peak, before it lost its last territory in 2019.

In Afghanistan, thousands of fighters belonging to ISIS-K escaped from prisons in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover.

The group claimed responsibility for a deadly explosion near Kabul’s airport during the frantic evacuation that followed the Taliban takeover.

ISIS-K will only be able to operate under the radar for the time being because it is an enemy of the Taliban and condemns them for their negotiations with the West, said Mr Kahl.

But he said the group may plan further attacks in Afghanistan that could have ramifications elsewhere.

ISIS at its peak inspired a steady drumbeat of attacks in Europe, including atrocities in Britain, France and Germany. UK security services were on alert for the threat of terrorism before the Taliban completed their rout of Afghan forces.

“We have to be especially on guard for ISIS-K, through attacks in the region, positioning itself as a global extremist actor and people taking inspiration from that to carry out attacks in Europe,” Mr Kahl said.

Mr Kahl used his speech to name Islamist extremism as one of five main threats preoccupying his agency, along with Russia, China, cyber attackers and the consequences of climate change.

He said both climate change and terrorism had the potential to cause waves of migration that Europe is desperate to avoid.

Updated: February 09, 2022, 9:49 AM
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