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20 British Muslims trapped in Kunduz

20 British Muslims trapped in Kunduz

Author: Ian Cobain, The Times, London
Publication: The Statesman
Date: November 22, 2001

Kunduz, Nov. 21. - Up to 20 British Muslims were reported to be trapped in Kunduz last night, after Washington made clear its determination to see all the Taliban defenders of the besieged city either killed or captured.

The Britons, young men of either Pakistani or Punjabi origin, are among the large international brigade of Taliban and Al-Qaida fighters whose presence in Kunduz is a hurdle in talks on surrendering to the Northern Alliance.

Some were seriously injured in a series of battles before the city was encircled last week, according to Taliban deserters who have switched sides in recent days and presently fighting with the Alliance.

The chances of them being able to cross the front lines to Alliance-held territory are said to be negligible, however, as they are led by Mohammad Ghary Faiz, a Pakistani commander who is said to have executed a number of his own men after questioning their loyalty.

Two representatives of the Taliban commanders in Kunduz have made a formal approach to the UNs in Islamabad to try to negotiate a surrender. They want to surrender to the UN.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the senior UN envoy for Afghanistan, said the organisation had no presence on the ground "and simply cannot accede to this request."

Mr Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, has been in touch with the Northern Alliance and members of the international coalition to ask that they "respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and treat this question with as much humanity as possible", Mr Brahimi said.

Gul Nabi (27), an Afghan who deserted from the Taliban two days ago, told how he had fought alongside at least a dozen so-called "English Muslims" in the village of Chal, 35 miles south-east of Kunduz, before The Alliance captured it last week. "I would never have been able to tell the difference between the English and the Pakistanis if I hadn't been told where they were from," he said. "Some of the English were injured at Chal, but I saw some of them again in Kunduz this week. They were good fighters, and good Muslims."

Mohammad Azim (20), another Taliban soldier who joined the Alliance on Monday, said he had fought alongside a small number of Britons at Kalakata, 60 miles north-west of Kunduz, and retreated with them to the city once their positions were overrun by the Alliance ten days ago.

"They said they had come to make jihad, like all of the other foreign tourists fighting with the Taliban," he said. He said one of the "English Muslims" had told him that he came from Glasgow.

Mr Donald Rumsfeld has said he hopes all of foreign contingent are "killed or captured". Alliance commanders said the USA had no part in the negotiations, that are being conducted by satellite telephone, radio and face-to-face talks near the front line. They said talks would continue until week-end, when they will decide if to try to take the city by force.

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