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Afghanistan risks becoming terrorist safe haven again following Taliban’s return

Click to play video: 'Chaos, uncertainty reigns as Taliban seize power in Afghanistan' Chaos, uncertainty reigns as Taliban seize power in Afghanistan
WATCH: Chaos, uncertainty reigns as Taliban seize power in Afghanistan (Warning: This video contains disturbing content. Discretion advised) – Aug 16, 2021

The last time Afghanistan was in the hands of the Taliban, the country was a terrorist safe haven, with training camps that welcomed militants from around the world.

With the country suddenly back under Taliban control, the national security implications will become more obvious in the coming months, but the predictions are dire.

Although Syria and Iraq had become the destination of choice for so-called foreign fighters, the demise of ISIS and the return of the Taliban has set up Afghanistan as the next hot spot.

Click to play video: 'Kabul falls to the Taliban as president flees Afghanistan' Kabul falls to the Taliban as president flees Afghanistan
Kabul falls to the Taliban as president flees Afghanistan – Aug 15, 2021

“I think that the Taliban victory in Afghanistan will inevitably spark renewed interest in foreign fighters travelling to that country, including individuals from the West,” said Colin Clarke.

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A Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will likely be “friendly for jihadists of most stripes,” said Clarke, the director of policy and research at the Soufan Group, a U.S. global security consultant.

The ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan could also benefit by harnessing the success of its Taliban rival to attract recruits, he said.

Read more: Taliban claim Afghanistan ‘war is over’ as president, diplomats flee country

The Taliban agreed last year not to allow al-Qaeda or other extremist groups to operate in areas it controlled, but it has a long history of doing so.

Former NATO chief George Robertson told the BBC the Taliban victory was partly the result of the involvement of “a whole host of jihadists from other parts of the world.”

“They are the ones who are going to present the greatest threat. We went in in 2001 in order to make sure that Afghanistan was not going to host international jihadist terrorists.

“I fear we are now back in a position where Afghanistan could easily host those elements again.”

Hundreds passed through a network of training camps in Afghanistan after the Taliban first seized the country in 1996.

Among them were a handful of Canadians such as Mohammed Jabarrah, a St. Catharines, Ont., resident who was sent to bomb embassies in Southeast Asia.

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Click to play video: 'Canada ‘firmly’ condemns the escalating violence in Afghanistan: Trudeau' Canada ‘firmly’ condemns the escalating violence in Afghanistan: Trudeau
Canada ‘firmly’ condemns the escalating violence in Afghanistan: Trudeau – Aug 16, 2021

In 2009, another Canadian, Hiva Alizadeh, made his way to Afghanistan and “attended a terrorist training camp run by Islamic militants,” according to Ontario court records.

“At this camp Alizadeh received training in the use of firearms, including AK47s and handguns. Alizadeh also received training in how to assemble remote-controlled improvised explosive devices.”

After swearing allegiance to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, Alizadeh came back to Canada and “sought to establish a group in Ottawa dedicated to facilitating violent jihad,” according to the court files.

He is now serving a life sentence in prison.

But as recently as Aug. 6, a Toronto man who had “expressed an interest in violent extremism” was placed on a terrorism peace bond after the RCMP found al-Qaeda and Taliban videos on his phone.

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Daniel Khoshnood, 30, came to the attention of national security investigators through his association with Kevin Omar Mohamed, who travelled to Syria in 2014 in an attempt to join a local al-Qaeda affiliate.

Read more: Terrorism peace bond placed on Toronto man with ISIS, Al Qaeda propaganda on phone

“Everything is moving so quickly on the ground that it is hard to say what the long-term implications will be,” Prof. Amarnath Amarasingam said of the Taliban victory.

“But if the past is any indication, there is of course a danger that Afghanistan once again becomes a kind of safe haven for groups like al-Qaeda,” said the Queen’s University foreign fighter expert.

He said it was “completely feasible that we might see some individuals in Canada leave to go fight in Afghanistan,” but that it would not likely match the numbers that went to Iraq and Syria.

About half the 190 “Canadian Extremist Travellers” currently overseas are in Syria, Iraq or Turkey, but some also went to Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to the Canadian government’s annual terrorism threat report.

Stewart.Bell@globalnews.ca

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