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Frontline: Searching for Militants Fighting in the Name of Bin Laden

May 3, 2011 at 6:48 PM EDT
In a Frontline excerpt, an Afghan journalist risks his life to search for militants who say they fight in the name of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. The episode airs Tuesday night on most PBS stations.

GWEN IFILL: And now to an Afghan journalist’s search for militants who say they fight still in the name of bin Laden.

In tonight’s edition of “Frontline,” he risks his life to find them.

This excerpt begins with his first encounter with their leader, Khan.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI, journalist (through translator): How are you?

MAN (through translator): Fine. And you?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI (through translator): Yes. I’m come to meet Khan.

MAN (through translator): Who are you?

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI (through translator): Najibullah Quraishi.

MAN (through translator): You are welcome.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI (through translator): Is he here?

MAN (through translator): You will find him. Sit down.

NARRATOR: Khan was the man who had agreed to let Najibullah come here. He now gave his permission for him to begin filming.

Khan said he is the regional commander for the mujahideen in this area. He is an Afghan of Arab descent. His al-Qaida connections go far back.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: He was in power. In Russian time, he was a commander. First, he was an ordinary soldier working with Osama bin Laden in one group, and they were together. They were fighting against the Russian in 1980s.

NARRATOR: Khan’s men and about 20 in this one group are a combination of local Afghan Arabs and foreign-born fighters. This fighter in Khan’s group is an Uzbek who says he first came to Afghanistan in 2001, at a time when bin Laden was still in the country.

MAN (through translator): Mujahideen are here from all other countries. Muslim brothers are here from Bosnia, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Arab countries, and all other countries.

NARRATOR: Today, the question of al-Qaida in Afghanistan is being argued between the U.S. military, which downplays their numbers, and recent press reports of a growing presence in the country.

For Najibullah, the combination of foreign fighters and Khan’s long connection to bin Laden convinces him that Khan’s men see themselves as fighting for al-Qaida.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: He or his guys, none of them say that they are al-Qaida, but they are saying: We are following Osama bin Laden. We are his men.

NARRATOR: Khan told Najibullah his fighters control as much as 10,000 square kilometers in this part of north central Afghanistan, a claim impossible to check.

But every day, Najibullah would join Khan’s fighters on patrols through their territory. There were scenes he wasn’t allowed to film, as they gathered intelligence, collected tax payments from local villagers, sometimes purchased weapons and apparently made preparations for resuming military operations this summer.

But on one patrol, when they entered this village, Najibullah was able to film what seemed to be an unusually large number of young boys. It turned out they were here to be schooled in the local madrassa, but their education apparently went beyond the Koran.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: I was filming. Suddenly, one came — one young child came with a machine gun from the madrassa from inside the mosque.

NARRATOR: When Khan saw Najibullah was filming this scene, he took his video camera away.

NAJIBULLAH QURAISHI: I had my still camera in my packet. And I managed to take some photographs of those children. They were teaching children to become a mujahid.

GWEN IFILL: Watch all of Najibullah’s harrowing story tonight on “Frontline” on most PBS stations.