A senior al-Qaeda leader who was released from prison on two separate occasions by the Afghan government is now leading the group's insurgent activities in northern Kunduz province, according to local officials.
The Kunduz police have identified the militant leader as Qari Belal, who fled to Pakistan after the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001 but was then invited to return to Kunduz by the Peace Council chaired by Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, the former Afghan President.
Kunduz court officials have indicated Belal was arrested by Afghan security forces twice since his return to the country, but that both times he was released. The said the releases were ordered by President Hamid Karzai.
Security officials have labeled Belal a high ranking al-Qaeda commander who commands some three hundred fighters in Kunduz. Local police believe Belal has masterminded numerous suicide attacks and overseen the planting of roadside bombs throughout the province. They have connected him directly to the killings of several Afghan soldiers.
"The al-Qaeda commander has been released by those hidden hands who are supporting the network and currently he takes charge of commanding al-Qaeda related fighters in Kunduz and fighting the security forces," Kunduz Police spokesman Syed Sarwar Hussaini told TOLOnews.
The reports from Kunduz come as militants have ramped-up violence around the country this summer, a push that many Afghan security officials and military analysts have in part attributed to ill-advised prisoner releases. Some have been more direct in blaming President Karzai, who has tried to defend the some 3,000 prisoners that he has released over the years by saying they were either wrongfully imprisoned or had insufficient evidence against them.
According to Qazi Abdul Malik, an official at the Kunduz provincial court, Belal has been charged in the Chahar Dara district of Kunduz before, but was released on the basis of Presidential Palace policy
."The president and our elders have always released the killers of the people of Afghanistan from jail before carrying out justice, this is a betrayal of the innocent people of Afghanistan," Kunduz MP Wahdood Paiman told TOLOnews.
Documents indicate that the al-Qaeda commander was initially brought to Kunduz by the province's Peace Council. In an official letter, signed by Sibghatollah Mujadidi, the committee had asked the security forces in Kunduz not to disturb Belal.
But when security forces previously searched Belal's home, they discovered that he was carrying many Afghan and Pakistani ID cards and passports under different names.
Belal is not the only militant leader who was released from prison and is currently waging war against the Afghan government in Kunduz. Mullah Salam has also been identified by local security forces, and is said to command some 3,000 fighters at present.