The former security chief for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has made a triumphant return to Afghanistan, fueling fears that the country is poised to again become the global epicenter of Islamist terrorism.
Video footage posted to social media appears to show Amin al Haq, the former head of al Qaeda‘s elite Black Guard, returning to his native Nangarhar province in a white SUV and accompanied by a large contingent of armed Taliban fighters. Apparent well-wishers rushed up to the vehicle to greet him, while others appeared to be taking photos and video of the return.
Bilal Siwary, an Afghan journalist working in the U.K., posted the footage on Twitter shortly after the final U.S. troops left the country on Monday, though it’s not entirely clear when the video was taken. Nangarhar fell to the Taliban several weeks ago.
After being taken prisoner in Pakistan in 2008, it is believed that Mr. al Haq was released about a decade ago. His exact whereabouts over the past 10 years are unknown, but some U.S. analysts say it is telling that he so quickly resurfaced in Afghanistan and that he and his supporters are comfortable being seen in public.
“The confidence to travel and operate out in the open — in plain sight for the first time in a decade — speaks to the marked change in Afghanistan over the last month,” Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who closely tracks the war in Afghanistan, wrote in an analysis late Monday.
The al Qaeda figure served as bin Laden’s head of security during the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, a key moment in the U.S. quest to capture bin Laden following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and subsequent invasion of Afghanistan. Bin Laden was ultimately killed at a compound in Pakistan in 2011.
Mr. al Haq also found his way to Pakistan. He reportedly crossed the border in 2007 before being taken prisoner in 2008. It’s unclear where he went after his release in 2011, specialists say.
Critics say a resurgence of al Qaeda is likely to be the inevitable result of President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. That withdrawal formally ended Monday as the final U.S. planes took off from the international airport in Kabul.
Several hundred Americans were left behind in Afghanistan.