Communication Follies with a Supreme Leader

Taliban Leaders Omar and Current Ldr

Just because a Supreme Leader of a hostile government has contact with a US government official doesn’t mean everything will change. Historically, we have seen this in our past and things haven’t turned out how we thought they would. Though it can be better to be speaking to an enemy than just threatening one. One can be hopeful, but actions always speak louder than words.

On August 21, 1998, a supporter of the Taliban asked Michael Malinowski, the Director of the Office for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh at the State Department if he was willing to communicate with one of the Taliban’s top leader. Malinowski stated he was always open to such communication if it was serious.

Profound changes were being undertaken during that period by the supreme leader of Afghanistan, Mullah Omar and the Taliban. In July 1998, the Taliban closed all foreign NGOs in Afghanistan which resulted in food distribution and aid disappearing. On August 7, 1998, Al Qaeda attacked two US Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had been given sanctuary by Mullah Omar. Then on August 8, 1998, the Taliban captured the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Immediately the Hazaras were brutally singled out and according to Human Rights Watch over 2,000 individuals were indiscriminately killed by the Taliban fighters.
On August 22, 1998, Malinowski in the early morning was connected to a conference call with Taliban Headquarters in Kandahar. Mullah Omar came on the conference call and interacted with a representative of the United States for the first time. Malinowski spoke of the threat posed by Bin Laden and the continued presence of Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Mullah Omar replied that he was open to dialogue. Malinowski suggested that open telephone lines were inappropriate and stated that it would be best if representatives meet in person. Mullah Omar suggested that the US could engage with the Taliban’s representatives in Islamabad, Pakistan.

One of the most comical things was that the supreme leader of the Taliban suggested that Congress should force President Clinton to resign. Omar warned that US strikes would be counterproductive and rally the Islamic world to Afghanistan’s side. Malinowski urged Mullah Omar to take Bin Laden in custody or expel him from Afghanistan. Malinowski cable drafted after the interaction with Mullah Omar ends with “this is a long way, however, from the Taliban doing the right thing on Bin Laden. We are still a long way from getting North Korea, Iran, and even the Taliban from doing the right thing. Mullah Omar had numerous opportunities to give up Bin Laden but continued to take a hardline stance that Bin Laden should not be expelled or extradited.

Last week the current leader of the Taliban Hibatullah Akhundzada called for direct talks with the United States to end the fighting. The Taliban still doesn’t want to negotiate with the Afghan government. Akhundzada said in a statement that “If the American officials truly believe in a peaceful end to the Afghan imbroglio, then they must directly present themselves to the negotiation table so that this tragedy the destructive effects of which mainly harm the American and Afghan people can be resolved through talks. . ..” It is almost as if the current leader of the Taliban doesn’t know why the Americans invaded Afghanistan. Early in his career, Akhundzada was a member of the notorious Promotion of Virtue and Prevention Police in Farah Province. He returned to Kandahar to take a position as a religious instructor at the Jihadi Madrasa where he had numerous interactions with Mullah Omar. He was then appointed Chief Justice of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Shariah Courts. In 2015, Akhundzada was appointed Deputy Commander of the Taliban. Then on May 25, 2016, the United States targeted and killed Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the Supreme Leader of the Taliban. Akhundzada was elevated to lead the Taliban and Sirijuddin Haqqani and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, who is Mullah Omar’s son. These three are not going to be easy to negotiate with and will instead stake out their hardline position. Communications is just one of many steps on a much longer journey. And as President Reagan once said, “trust but verify.”

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Unveiled Courage in Iran: The Girls of Revolution Street

Unveiled in Tehran

On March 7, 1979, the leaders of the Iranian government imposed upon the women of Iran the mandatory wearing of the hijab. The next day to the dismay of the government thousands of women across Iran protested the mandatory wearing of the hijab. These brave women protested for their freedom then and this continues today.

On December 27, 2017, Vida Movahed, climbed onto a telephone box on Revolution Avenue, in the busy central area of Tehran and waved her white head scarf . For some this was an unveiled display of courage but in Iran this crime is called Disturbing Public Security.  After the Iranian Revolution swept across the country in 1979, the government passed a law requiring all women to wear a head scarf (hijab). Vida Movahed’s crime was that she wanted to silently protest the compulsory law requiring her to cover her head.

On January 29, 2018, Narges Hosseini also defied Iran’s hijab law and within ten minutes of uncovering her head and waving her head scarf she was arrested. She was released on $140,000 bail. Narges Hosseini’s trial began on Saturday, February 24th.  Hosseini is charged with:

1.  Encouraging Immorality or Prostitution

2.  Failing to Observe Hijab

3. Flagrant Commitment of a Forbidden Act.

The Iranians have arrested over thirty-five “girls of Revolution Street” as this spontaneous movement has been called.  But that has done little to stop other Iranian women from their  protest. On February 22, 2018, Tehran Police had a barrier welded on the top of the telephone box on Revolution Avenue to prevent these protests.  Instead other women moved down the street to another box, to a bench or other places to wage their protests. While the first couple women were released on bail, the Iranian government is using imprisonment in an attempt to quash these protests. Instead of releasing them on bail, Azam Jangroy, Maryam Shariatmadari, Shaparak Shajarizadeh and others have been imprisoned.

Shaparak Shajarizadeh is being held in solitary confinement in the appalling Shahr-e-Rey Prison as is Maryam Shariatmadari. Maryam Shariatmadari was standing on the top of the box when a police officer physically knocked her off the box. This resulted in a trip to the hospital before being jailed. Women’s human rights in Iran continue to be violated. Last year Dorsa Derakshani, an 18-year old chess grandmaster was banned from competing on the Iranian Chess Team after she competed in the Gilbraltar Chess Tournament with her hair uncovered.

I am reminded of another brave girl who didn’t want a government dictating how she dressed. Hala, was an Afghan teenager who witnessed the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Hala and her sister Sulima wrote a book entitled, “Behind the Burqa Our Life in Afghanistan and How We Escaped to Freedom.” In the book, Hala describes when she first heard on the radio that “Women are to wear hijab and burqa, by order of the  Ministry for the Protection of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.”

Hala and her sisters had enjoyed their fashion freedom and they were being required to wear a burqa. The Taliban also forbid them from wearing white socks, listening to music and attending school. Hala was a normal defiant teenager. She told me she liked wearing blue jeans, polo shirts and enjoyed school. Hala and her sisters began running a neighborhood school and initially declined to wear a burqa.  Soon the Taliban was alerted and Hala’s choices were bleak. She might face imprisoned, acid attacks, or could even be killed to make an example of her. Instead she was forced to flee her country and flew into New York by herself where she requested political asylum.

Today a new generation of women are speaking out and protesting for their rights. These brave mothers and daughters, should be given the freedom to dress without a government forcing them to wear a head covering. So tomorrow as the world celebrates International Women’s Day we should celebrate these women for their bravery and courage. The unveiled girls of Revolution Street have become a symbol of freedom and those being held should be immediately released. For as Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Ahmad Ibrahim al-Mughassil-The Mastermind of Khobar Towers Attack Captured

Ahmad Ibrahim al-Mughassil thought he was untouchable. For 19 years, he has been a wanted man, moving and hiding in the shadows of Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Armed with a disguise and what he thought was a sanctuary in Beirut, he enjoyed the protection of Hezbollah and the Iranians. But that all changed recently, when one of the most wanted Saudi Hezbollah terrorists was captured and spirited back to Saudi Arabia. Ahmad Ibrahim al-Mughassil was the military commander of Saudi Hezbollah (Hizbullah al-Hijaz). But what truly made him a dangerous terrorist was that he was a hands-on terrorist and part of the Iran’s proxy war against the United States.

On the south side of Damascus, tucked behind layers of shops, markets and hotels geared towards Iranian pilgrims is the Sayyeda Zeinab Mosque. This Iranian styled Mosque is where Ahmad al-Mughassil would meet and recruit terrorists for Saudi Hezbollah. Al-Mughassil would then make arrangements for the new recruits to travel to Iran or Lebanon for their military training.

Three years before the Khobar Towers attack, al-Mughassil began coordinating the casing and surveillance of numerous locations where Americans could be found in eastern Saudi Arabia. Two years after starting the casing and surveillance- the target was set. The cell began regular surveillance of Khobar Towers. For all practical purposes there was no difference between Hezbollah groups in Kuwait, Lebanon or the Hijaz. Iran helped all of them with funding, training, intelligence, logistics and the planning and execution of terrorist attacks.

On the evening of June 25, 1996, the terrorists made their final preparations before leaving a farm in Qatif. The target-another American barracks was located about 45 minutes by car to the south. Hani al-Sayegh would drive the Datsun “scout car” accompanied by Abdallah al-Jarash. Ahmad al-Mughassil would drive the Mercedes Benz truck bomb accompanied by Ali Ali-Houri. The get-away car, a white four-door Chevrolet Caprice, favored for its big engine and steel bumpers would be driven by Hussein al-Mughis.

The convoy of death soon turned onto Uhud Road before heading south on the Dhahran Jubail Expressway before exiting on Route 95. Now there was no turning back. Soon the three vehicles turned onto Old Abqaiq Road. The scout vehicle went ahead pulling into the public parking lot and signaled the coast was clear by flashing its high beams. Next the get-away car turned into the parking lot and Mughis positioned the Caprice to pick up its two passengers. With other terrorist groups the leader would never be anywhere near target. But Mughassil is not your ordinary leader. He slowly turned the Mercedes truck bomb into the parking lot and backed up as close to Building 131 as he could. These terrorists were not suicide bombers like the ones Hezbollah sent to attack the Marine Barracks and the French Paratroopers in Beirut. These Saudi Hezbollah terrorists wanted to escape to attack again.

Khobar Towers Roftop

Staff Sergeant Alfredo Guerrero, an Air Force Security Police Supervisor made his way to the rooftop of Building 131. Guerrero was there to check on the two Security Police officers manning their posts. While Guerrero spoke with Airman First Class Chris Wagar, Mughassil backed the truck bomb into place. The two terrorists jumped into the white Caprice and made their escaped to Bahrain, where they discarded their vehicles. Soon these terrorists would make their way to Iran.

The Security Police officers thought the truck and the actions of the terrorists looked suspicious and began evacuating the building. Within minutes the truck bomb detonated killing 19 Air Force members and injuring 372 Americans. The Iranians through their proxy-Saudi Hezbollah had struck America again.

For the last nineteen years, Ahmad Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, Ali Saed Bin El-Hoorie, Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub, and Abdelkarim Hussein Mohammed Al-Nasser have been able to avoid justice. Today, three Saudi Hezbollah terrorists remain outside the grasps of justice for the bombing of Khobar Towers. But we can’t forget that Saudi Hezbollah undertook this attack at the behest of Iran. Whatever the reason for the capture of Ahmad Ibrahim Al-Mughassil is, it is always a good thing to remove one of the world’s most wanted terrorists. After all, we owe it to the families of those who lost their lives 19 years ago.