Guardian: Egyptian Islamists Under Siege in Kunduz

Published November 20th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Thousands of Taliban fighters under siege in Kunduz, the group's last enclave in northern Afghanistan, are members of the banned Egyptian movement Al Gamaa Al Islamiyya (the Islamic Group), which dropped its guns in 1999 after a bitter war with authorities, according to a report by the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday. 

Estimates of the number of Taliban troops defending Kunduz run as high as 30,000, including a hardcore element of Arab, Chechen and Pakistani fighters belonging to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. 

As the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and US warplanes intensified their military assault on the city, experts warned that a slaughter of the Egyptian radicals could trigger desperate acts of retaliation by Al Gamaa cells around the world.  

"The Kunduz enclave is going to have its own logic," Mamoun Fandy, an expert on Middle Eastern extremist groups at the National Defense University in Washington told the paper. "A response will come from the destruction of Kunduz and it will come from Gamaa in Egypt and elsewhere."  

Many of Al Gamaa members are now facing a military trial in their homeland. 

The estimated 3,000 foreign Taliban forces in Kunduz are reported to have vowed to fight to the death. According to the Guardian, there are two reports of foreign Taliban in Kunduz committing suicide to avoid surrender.  

A Northern Alliance commander told CNN that 25 trapped Taliban fighters shot each other dead when they saw opposition troops advancing. One source inside Kunduz told CNN that about 60 Chechens fighting alongside the Taliban drowned themselves in the Amu River rather than give up. 

Suicide is forbidden in Islam under all circumstances, and suicide attacks carried out by Palestinian resistance groups against Israeli targets are still controversial among Muslim clerics. 

On Tuesday, an opposition Northern Alliance general battling the Taliban around Kunduz did not rule out the evacuation of foreign "mercenaries,” reported AFP. 

"If the United Nations or certain countries are prepared to receive the foreign militia, we can allow them to leave Afghanistan," said General Mohammad Daoud, adding however that "those who have committed crimes will be brought to justice." 

"One of the demands of the Taliban is that they are allowed to leave Kunduz in a convoy to Kandahar (in the south), but this is not possible." 

Opposition acting Interior Minister Younis Qanooni told AFP that some of the fighters entrenched in Kunduz had requested safe passage to the United Arab Emirates and Kandahar. 

A Taliban commander, Mulla Fazil, told a Pakistani newspaper on Monday the militia forces would be willing to surrender, but only under UN supervision. 

US warplanes have pounded Kunduz and its immediate surroundings for nearly a week. The Pakistani daily Dawn quoted Fazil as saying more than 1,000 people had been killed in the airstrikes over the weekend – 

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