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Taliban claim arrest of mosque chowkidar after Friday’s blast in Kuchlak

By Rahimullah Yusufzai
August 18, 2019

PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban movement has announced the arrest of the chowkidar of the mosque as the main suspect in the bomb explosion on Friday in Kuchlak, Balochistan in which Hafiz Ahmadullah, the younger brother of Taliban supreme leader Shaikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, was killed.

In an audio message, an unidentified Taliban member congratulated his colleagues while announcing the arrest of the accused chowkidar (guard) of the mosque at the Khairul Madaris seminary in Qasim Killay in Kuchlak area near Quetta. He held him responsible for the bomb explosion that caused the death of Hafiz Ahmadullah. He didn’t identify the chowkidar.

It appears the chowkidar was an Afghan national. The Taliban group normally employs Afghans after carrying out background security checks on them. However, the group has erred in the past as well in the selection of guards and aides. In one known case, the security guards of leading Taliban military commander Mulla Dadullah, were apprehended by the Taliban investigators, tried and executed after being found involved in Dadullah’s killing in Helmand province in May 2007.

The rival Afghan Taliban faction led by Mulla Mohammad Rasool had earlier claimed responsibility for the attack through its controversial spokesman, Mulla Abdul Mannan Niazi. His claim was quickly dismissed as he had wrongly claimed it was a suicide attack.

According to the Quetta Police head Abdul Razzaq Cheema, an explosive time device was planted under the wooden chair of the peshimam of the mosque and the explosion was triggered when he was delivering the Friday prayers sermon. Neither police officials nor eyewitnesses mentioned the presence of any suicide bomber at the time of the explosion.

Mulla Niazi’s claim was also rejected by members of his own small faction based in Pakistan. They said Niazi is used to making such baseless claims. Some of them pointed out that Niazi was close to the Afghan government and has been to Kabul a number of times.

Subsequently, the Mula Rasool faction issued a formal statement through its acting head Mulla Abdur Rauf to condemn the explosion and describe those killed as martyrs. Without naming Niazi, it said the claim of responsibility made by this person was his personal opinion and didn’t reflect their faction’s view.

Prior to Niazi’s claim, news reports had come from Kabul claiming that the bomb explosion in the mosque was due to the internal Taliban rivalries. Niazi’s claim was apparently meant to reinforce this perception.

Mulla Rasool, who formed his faction after refusing to recognize the selection of Mulla Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor as the Taliban leader in May 2015 after the death of the movement’s founder Mulla Mohammad Omar, is in Pakistan’s custody since then.

The Quetta Police had said four people were killed and 25 wounded in the attack. Other reports mentioned five or even 11 deaths. Almost all the dead and injured were stated to be Afghan nationals who supported the Taliban.

Hafiz Ahmadullah, who headed the madrassa and was the peshimam of the adjacent mosque, had replaced Shaikh Haibatullah Akhundzada when the latter was appointed the ameer of the Afghan Taliban movement following the killing of Mulla Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor in a US drone strike in Chaghi district in Balochistan in May 2016 when he was returning in a car after a visit Iran. Haibatullah Akhundzada has reportedly gone underground and is accessible to a select group of Taliban members.

There is no evidence that Haibatullah Akhundzada was the target of the terrorist attack at the mosque in Kuchlak because Taliban sources said he hasn’t visited the madrassa in years. The target was obviously his brother Hafiz Ahmadullah as the explosives were placed under the wooden chair where he used to deliver the Friday sermon. There were also unconfirmed reports that Hafiz Ahmadullah’s son and a nephew were wounded in the explosion.

Haibatullah Akhundzada lived in relative obscurity and used to teach at the madrassa in Kuchlak and serve as the peshimam for years before he became the supreme leader of the Taliban.