Taliban five dubbed 'worst of the worst' settle into their new lives

By Ruth Sherlock in Doha

The Taliban office in Doha. Photo / AP
The Taliban office in Doha. Photo / AP

BMWs and 4x4s crammed the car park and pavements around the tall white mosque where worshippers were reciting the midday prayer. Outside, in the suffocating 45C desert heat, wide roads run alongside row after row of large, high-walled, residential compounds.

It is here, in al-Muaither, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of the Qatari capital Doha, that the five Taliban members released from the Guantanamo detention centre have been taken to settle in to their new lives as free men.

The five, accused of massacres that left thousands dead in Afghanistan and the Middle East, were released as part of the controversial prisoner swap a week ago for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

Under the terms of the agreement, the men are banned from travelling outside of Qatar for one year.

Before their incarceration, the five men were leading figures in the Taliban.

They include Khairullah Khairkwa, one of the movement's founders, and Mohammed "Mullah" Fazl, the former chief of staff of the Taliban army, who presided over the execution of surrendering fighters in 1999. Norullah Noori allegedly took part in the massacre of thousands of Shias in 1998, while Mohammed Nabi Omari and Abdul Haq Wasiq are described as being connected to several Islamic extremist groups, including al-Qaeda. The five are "the worst of the worst", according to Michael Kugelman, of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars.

But their new living quarters in opulent Doha, in a small nation dripping in oil wealth, are a far cry from their ascetic existence on the Afghan battlefield or the more than a decade spent inside Guantanamo. In al-Muaither, a neighbourhood of roughly one square mile that backs on to the Qatari desert, each home is an air-conditioned private castle, many resplendent with turrets and faux battlements.

One Taliban source said: "They are resting now in the compound with their families who have come to join them here."

"This has been a much needed success for Qatar," said Michael Stephens, a senior Doha-based analyst with the security think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute.

For several years, Qatar has been seeking to position itself as a mediator between Islamist groups and the Western world. Last year, it allowed the Taliban to open an office to use for its ongoing negotiations with the US Government. The project ended in diplomatic disaster when the Taliban adorned the office with the trappings of state, annoying Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, and ending his willingness to co-operate in the talks. It took a year to repair relations.

The ex-detainees join a plethora of dictators, war criminals, militia leaders and extremists who have been given sanctuary. Moussa Koussa, the ex-spy chief of former Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi; Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas' political Bureau; and influential Muslim cleric Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi are just some of the characters who can be found sipping tea in the Four Seasons hotel in Doha.

There are also several dozen, quite senior, members of the Taliban living in the country, but they have so far kept a low profile.

It remains to be seen whether the five, all now past the age of 40, will seek to return to the battlefield or relax into the commercial comforts of Doha life.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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