On Tuesday, FBI Director Chris Wray testified that he was concerned by the fact that Sirajuddin Haqqani, an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist on the FBI’s most-wanted list, had been placed in a leadership role in the Taliban’s new interim government in Afghanistan.
On September 7, the Taliban named Haqqani as its interim Minister of Interior, responsible for police and security in Afghanistan.
During a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) asked Wray his thoughts about Sirajuddin Haqqani’s leadership role. Wray responded, “It certainly concerns me.”
When Portman asked if Haqqani still remains on the FBI’s most-wanted list, Wray responded, “I believe so.”
Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network — which is a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization — is wanted in connection with the January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed six people, including an American citizen. The U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice program lists a reward of up to $10 million for information leading directly to Haqqani’s arrest
Wray agreed, as did Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid, that it runs counter to U.S. national security interests for people like Haqqani to be in a leadership position in the new interim Taliban government – the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, an effort led by Republican lawmakers raised calls for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to place the terrorist designation on the Taliban.
The question of whether to designate the Taliban as a terrorist group is one of ongoing debate. The Haqqani Network has been linked to Al Qaeda and with Sirajuddin Haqqani’s new role in the Taliban government, there could be a connection established between the Taliban government and Al Qaeda terrorists.
The Washington Examiner reported that State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked during an August 27 press engagement whether U.S. coordination with the Taliban on evacuation efforts from Afghanistan extends to the Haqqani Network. Price replied, “No, it does not. The Taliban and the Haqqani Network are separate entities.”
While the State Department has characterized the Taliban and Haqqani Network as separate, some members of the Haqqani Network don’t see a distinction. In an August 30 interview with Newsline, Sirajuddin’s brother Anas Haqqani said, “We are the Taliban.”
According to Newsline, Annas Haqqani further said the distinction between the Taliban and Haqqani did not exist and any attacks his family were involved in were not conducted independently but are representative of the entire Taliban.
During the hearing, Portman asked Wray and Mayorkas their opinions on whether the Taliban should be considered a foreign terrorist organization. Wray said he agreed that the Taliban is a terrorist organization. Mayorkas replied, “I believe it is identified as such, senator.”