Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Neighbor's View of the Al Qaeda Network ; Arab Fighters Who Fled Jalalabad Last Week Left a Trail of Clues, from Warfare Training Manuals to Mortars

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Neighbor's View of the Al Qaeda Network ; Arab Fighters Who Fled Jalalabad Last Week Left a Trail of Clues, from Warfare Training Manuals to Mortars

Article excerpt

To 9-year-old Ashaq, the men who lived next door were rather odd.

Even by Afghan standards, they were unusually well-armed, with everything from heavy machine guns to rocket-propelled grenade launchers and land mines.

The only time Ashaq and his family saw neighbors Abul Nasir and Abu Saleh, was when they drove in and out of the compound in Toyota trucks.

"We knew they were commanders by their pickup trucks, because only commanders can have such cars," says Ashaq. He says the five children who lived next-door were not allowed to speak to him.

"We didn't know what was inside the home," says Abdul Darof, Ashaq's father. "When we saw them at the gate, they had furious features and they didn't want to talk with us."

Now, the Darofs know why their neighbors were so secretive. They were members of Al Qaeda, a loose network of Islamic militants founded by Osama bin Laden, the man Washington considers responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Since the Arabans, as they are known locally, fled their homes and military bases around Jalalabad, a city in southeast Afghanistan on the main road between the capital, Kabul, and Peshawar, Pakistan, a clearer picture is emerging of their lives and their mission in Afghanistan. As the US continues to pursue its war on terrorism - and Mr. bin Laden - Al Qaeda's methods and motives are under close scrutiny.

Most Arabs kept to themselves, neighbors say, and seemed focused on preparing for war. While they wore typical Afghan clothing and learned Pashtu, the language of Afghanistan's dominant ethnic Pashtuns, Afghans say the Arabs were an unfriendly lot. Asked if he was happy his neighbors had left, Mr. Darof smiles and points to his own home. "I am only happy this place was not bombed by American planes," he says.

In the home of Mr. Nasir and Mr. Saleh, heaps of weapons are stacked in storage closets. Dozens of warfare training manuals teach everything from how to assemble a homemade land mine to how to shoot down a jet fighter with a stinger missile. One 1,023-page tome has a section with algebraic formulas to help fire a missile at a fast- moving target. …

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