The suicide bomber who killed 13 American military personnel along with more than 160 Afghan civilians in an attack days before the final U.S. pullout last month was previously incarcerated in a prison at Bagram Air Base but was released by the Taliban a few weeks before his attack.
According to Mumbai, India-based Firstpost, the bomber, identified as Abdul Rehman, was known to Indian intelligence and was previously suspected of a plot to attack targets in New Dehli, India’s capital, as well as other cities around the country.
The outlet reported that, according to Indian intelligence sources, Rehman, who was from Afghanistan’s Logar province and once studied engineering at an Indian university, was apprehended and then turned over to the CIA in September 2017. But he was released on Aug. 15 along with thousands of other jihadist inmates after the United States military withdrew from the massive airfield in the dead of night in July without notifying Afghan National Army allies. The base served as the hub of U.S. and NATO operations for nearly two decades.
After Taliban fighters swept in and took over the facility a few weeks later, they released all the prisoners including, apparently, Rehman, “the son of an Afghan merchant who frequently visited India for business,” Firstpost noted.
The apprehension of Rehman by Indian intelligence officials thwarted a plan by ISIS-K (Islamic State of Khurasan Province), which operates inside Afghanistan, to carry out a suicide bombing campaign in India, most likely in coordination with Pakistan’s capable Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI); Pakistan and India, both nuclear-armed nations, have fought at least four wars and have also been involved in a number of deadly skirmishes since 1947, following the end of British imperialist rule.
One Indian intelligence official blamed the Biden administration’s disordered withdrawal from Afghanistan for putting citizens in both countries at increased risk.
“America’s disorganized retreat from Afghanistan has led to hundreds of highly-competent and highly-committed terrorists being set free to rejoin the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups,” said the intelligence officer who worked on the Rehman case.
“Literally a decade’s work on counter-terrorism has been undone by the U.S.’ failure to secure key prisoners in Bagram,” the officer continued, adding that the effects of the prisoner releases will be “very far-reaching.”
The attack outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul killed 11 Marines, two Army soldiers, and a Navy corpsman; President Joe Biden was roundly criticized by both Republicans and Democrats, as well as former President Donald Trump, for the attack and for the chaotic withdrawal.
Firstpost noted that Sawt al-Hind (Voice of the Indian Subcontinent), the Islamic State’s South Asia magazine, confirmed in a weekend edition that Rehman had previously been arrested in New Delhi as part of a suicide bombing plot.
The ISIS-K operation to conduct a suicide bombing campaign throughout India was first reported by The Indian Express in 2018; the CIA first detected it in mid-2017 after intercepting communications between leaders of ISIS-K in Afghanistan and elements of their financial support network in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Firstpost reported that Rehman was supposed to lead the campaign because he was familiar with New Delhi after visiting the city many times as part of his family’s business dealings there. He was apprehended after New Delhi police had put him under surveillance for several weeks.
But instead of prosecuting and incarcerating him in India, a decision was made to turn him over to the CIA instead, where he was questioned by agency operatives as well as members of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence service. “The questioning led to the elimination of multiple Islamic State leaders in United States drone strikes till 2019,” Firstpost reported.
And that may have ultimately led to Rehman’s final act.
“There’s no clarity on what happened to Abdul Rehman between his escape from Bagram and the suicide attack,” another intelligence official told Firstpost in speculating on what motivated Rehman to attack U.S. forces outside the Kabul airport.
“It is possible he wanted revenge, or that he was persuaded by his old jihadist friends to atone for his role in the killings of his associates in this manner.”
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