London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Safiyah al Shami, the sister-in-law of Mustafa Hamid, who is known as Abu Walid al Masri, the ideologue of the Afghan Arabs, has disclosed that he is currently detained in Iran alongside his eldest son and two of his sons-in-law, one of whom is believed to be Saif al Adel, the military commander of Al Qaeda.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al Awsat, al Shami said that she recently received a telephone call from her sister Wafa, Abu Walid al Masri’s wife, from Tehran. Her sister spoke about the difficult living conditions that the family is subjected to. She revealed that neither his children nor his wife possess official personal documentation or passports. She said that following their escape from Kandahar in the wake of the Taliban’s fall, they sought refuge at the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad to no avail.
Safiyah al Shami stated that her sister and her family now travel around Iran with Iranian identity cards. Some of the children, she added, face a lot of harassment in the Iranian capital. One of them, Walid, is in detention with his father and has two children from a Pakistani wife. Abu Walid has one daughter, Asma who has three children. His other children are Abdul Rahman, Mariam, Aisha, and Muhammad. Another son, Khalid, was killed during the years of combat against the Russians.
As the eldest sister, Safiyah constantly worries about her sister Wafa and the children. She prays that their ordeal comes to an end and for the hardship of their lonely lives in exile to be made easier. She asks in a raised voice, “Who would have known that all this would happen to Abu Walid, a well-mannered man? Who planned for him to travel to Afghanistan so that he would end up like this?”
Safiyah al Shami says that many Arab families who had nothing to do with the conflict in Afghanistan were lost their way during the flight from Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad when the US bombing began.
Safiyah noted, however, that her sister had mentioned that the Iranian authorities are treating Abu Walid well in jail. She said that he may be detained alongside dozens of other Afghan Arabs who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban government collapsed and who are now under house arrest and in the hands of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
She added that she is very concerned about her family especially that news of her sister, the children, and the grandchildren stopped all of a sudden. She said that during her last telephone conversation with her sister, she complained about the poor circumstances in which the family was living in Tehran and how they had attempted to return to Egypt but could not because they did not have the appropriate documentation.
She explained that Al Masri’s eldest son, Walid, had been searching for work but was unsuccessful so he sought assistance from the Iranian authorities for his two children, his siblings, and his mother. Instead of helping, the Iranian authorities arrested him.
Safiyah asserted that Abu Walid had no connection at all with Al Qaeda but rather was in opposition to the network. He frequently criticized Al Qaeda’s extremism and excessiveness in dealing with the West.
Safiyah, who is also Abu Walid’s cousin as well as sister-in-law, told Asharq Al Awsat that her entire family is astonished at Aljazeera’s disregard for Abu Walid’s plight despite having been the director of the Kandahar bureau for Aljazeera from 1998 to 2001, whilst it promotes the case of its Kabul correspondent Taysir Alluni and photographer Sami al Hajj, who is detained in Guantanamo.
Asharq Al Awsat attempted to contact Waddah Khanfar, Aljazeera’s general manager, for information on a number of occasions however to no avail.
Abu Walid al Masri was one of the earliest Arab combatants in Afghanistan. Under his real name, Mustafa Hamid, he wrote several books including ‘The Afghan Arabs’ and ‘Tharthara Foq Soqof al Alam’ (Chatter on the Roof of the World), a copy of which was found by the US forces.
Among the London Islamists, Abu Walid was known as Hashim al Makki. Asharq Al Awsat published several articles that he had written after the fall of the Taliban, in which he criticized Bin Laden’s strategic vision of the conflict with the United States, as a result of which the Afghan Arabs lost the Taliban state under whose rule they had lived in peace and safety.
There was heated controversy amongst fundamentalists in Britain over the criticism that Abu Walid leveled at Osama Bin Laden’s method of operation in Afghanistan, which he described as “lacking in wisdom.”
Using his pseudonym Hashim al Makki, he wrote two successive articles that were posted on Al Mahrusah website, which was operated by Osama Rushdie, spokesman for the banned Al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya. With reference to Bin Laden, he wrote: “Apparently this method of operation is a disease that is widely spread specifically within the Arab jihadist movement.” He also said, “A believer should always seek wisdom,” and cited the famous adage: “Search for knowledge even in China.”
In these two articles Abu Walid cited “a formula for victory in war” authored by a Chinese sage [Sun Tzu] during the 6th Century BC. The formula was summarized in one sentence: “Know yourself, and know your enemy.” It went on to explain that if “you are ignorant of yourself and of your enemy, you will be defeated in every battle. If you know yourself but are ignorant of your enemy, you will suffer a defeat for every victory you achieve. If you know both yourself and your enemy, do not fear the outcome of a hundred battles.”
Abu Walid, who was close to the Taliban leader Mullah Omar and for several years was in charge of publishing the Arabic edition of the magazine “The Islamic Emirate,” revealed certain facts within the articles of that magazine. These articles, some of which were found by the Americans in Kandahar and some others that surfaced among the fundamentalists in London, mention the following point: “In Afghanistan, Islamists discovered new facts that had not been revealed before but were known centuries ago. This includes the idea that the method of absolute individual command was unsuccessful, outdated, and usually ended in defeat.”
He pointed out that the greatest US success was in the sphere of “psychological warfare.” They succeeded in “misleading Bin Laden and caused him to have the illusion that he had become a great and frightening superpower, thus his decisions and actions were influenced by that illusion.”
Abu Walid added, “Bin Laden left Tora Bora disheartened by the wounds of defeat and collapse, the very wounds that broke the Taliban and brought down the Islamic Emirate, causing that pious man, Mullah Omar, to become a fugitive in the mountains after sacrificing everything, even his lust for power, for the sake of refusing to hand over one Muslim man who had sought refuge with him.”
Abu Walid wrote, “The most serious issue was the extreme weakness of Bin Laden’s political and military capabilities.” He added: “This was no longer a secret as Bin Laden revealed this himself in his own statements, which he released after leaving Afghanistan, most notably in his first statement after the Tora Bora battle, which revealed his gross ignorance of the fundamental principles of military action.”
Safiyah al Shami told Asharq Al Awsat that Abu Walid al Masri, her former husband’s younger brother, was born in 1945 to the Banu Hilal clan in Minya al-Qamh, Egypt, and graduated as a mechanical engineer from Alexandria University in the early 1970s. He became fascinated by the journalistic profession and traveled to the land of the anti-Russian jihad in Afghanistan to cover the news of the Mujahideen. He had previously worked as a Mercedes Benz mechanic in Kuwait and then in Abu-Dhabi as the owner of an auto repair center. He earned good money but was more concerned about God than financial gain. He sought to gain God’s favor by reporting the news. He worked as a correspondent for several UAE newspapers and magazines including Al-Ittihad and Al-Wathbah, and finally as a director of Aljazeera’s Kandahar bureau.
Safiyah al Shami, who also worked for several press establishments in Kuwait before moving to London, said that Abu Walid loved journalism and that his main concern in life was to uphold God’s word. Jihad also fascinated him, and for this reason he packed his bags and took his wife and young children to Peshawar [in Pakistan] from where he entered Afghanistan.
Safiyah spoke about her youngest sister Sana’s attempts in Cairo to secure Abu Walid’s release through contact with Iranian officials via the [International] Red Cross.
She said that the last time she saw Abu Walid was in Abu Dhabi in 1986 when he came to visit her to congratulate her on the graduations of her son and daughter. She was surprised by the fact that he had a long beard, but as usual, he was relaxed and amusing in his manner. He also behaved as a true Muslim and revealed all that was in his heart. He spoke about the “negative aspects that marred the jihadist arena in Afghanistan.”
At the end of last year Asharq Al Awsat published parts of Abu Walid’s book ‘Tharthara Foq Soqof al Alam’, in which he focused on the negative aspects that marred the jihadist scene in Afghanistan in the years of combat against the Russians. He noted that the most prominent of those negative aspects were the exaggerated disputes, the hard-line attitudes that some groups adopted in connection with points of Islamic jurisprudence, the prolonged controversies, and the continuous splits from the main groups.
He wrote: “The exaggerated controversies were so apparent that they painted the entire Arab image.” He also said that during the years of fighting against the Russians, the Mujahideen arena was full of worthless characters, outlaws, hypocrites, and opportunists.”