A group of the Afghan Taliban has threatened to avenge the beheading of Maulana Hashim – a cleric in the Khyber tribal region – who was abducted and subsequently killed by Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI), a militant group led by notorious commander Mangal Bagh Afridi.
The beheading has sparked bloody clashes between Bagh’s loyalists and Zakhakhel tribesmen – the erstwhile allies of the LeI – in different parts of Khyber Agency. Scores of people from both sides have been killed in the fighting. Maulana Hashim belonged to Zakhakhel, a sub-clan of Afridi tribe.
Local residents told The Express Tribune on Monday that the slain cleric had been running a madrassa in Khyber Agency and hundreds of his students of Afghan origin are now fighting the US-led coalition troops in the southeast of Afghanistan.
These students have sent a message to Bagh and his loyalists from Afghanistan that they would avenge the killing of their teacher at all costs, said fighters from the two warring groups.
Maulana Hashim, they added, was highly respected not only among locals but also among the ranks of Afghan Taliban in eastern provinces of Afghanistan — most of them studied at his madrassa.
Though nobody is aware of the exact number of Hashim’s Afghan pupils, most of the locals approached by The Express Tribune put the number at somewhere between 7,000 and 15,000. And at least half of them might be associated with different groups of the Afghan Taliban.
The involvement of Afghan militants would put Bagh’s LeI under more pressure as it is already being given tough time not only by rival Ansarul Islam (AI) led by Commander Mehboobul Haq but also by the Zakhakhels.
Locals said Bagh and his fighters were already on the run from Tirah Valley after fighting battles with both rivals for the sixth day in row.
“It looks the group’s sway over the region is over … they are being chased into their hideouts by the people they have enraged,” one associate of the LeI said.
Some elements within the group, he added, were happy with Bagh’s decision of not handing over to the Zakhakhel tribe those blamed for the killing of Maulana Hashim.
“Haji Sahib (Mangal) underestimated the consequences and now we all are paying the price … he must have realised that we cannot face too many enemies at the same time,” he added.
Another reason for the involvement of the Afghan Taliban is Ustad Yasir, a second-in-command of Afghan mujahideen commander Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, once a friend of Hashim before he was arrested a couple of years ago.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2011.
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