Abdul Rasul Sayyaf

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Abdul Rasul Sayyaf is an Afghan warlord still active in national politics, representing some of the most conservative Islamists. He headed the seventh of the Afghan political parties with which Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence worked, Islamic Union (Ittihad-e-Islami). Educated at al-Azhar University and an excellent speaker of Arabic, his beliefs is Wahhabist, and he had been active in the Ikwan-i-Musalamin in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Within the Peshawar Seven, he was effectively the representiative of Saudi interests; Prince Turki al-Faisal insisted on his recognition by ISI. [1] He is also called Ustad (Professor) Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and Abd-i-Rab Rasoul Sayaf.


He was born at Paghman, a town immediately west of Kabul. He is a member of the Kharruti tribe of Pashtuns, as were Hafizullah Amin and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar Beginning in 1969, he taught at a small Islamic university in Kabul. His tenure ended in 1973 when he plotted with Rabbani, Ahmad Shah Massoud and Hekmatyar to overthrow President Daoud Khan from the Panjshir Valley, a coup that failed miserably and forced the future-mujahideen leaders to flee to Pakistan. [2] On his return, the Afghan Daud and Taraki-Amin governments imprisoned him until 1979. [3].

Peshawar Seven

The Peshawar Seven, formed by Inter-Services Intelligence, was the dominant external support to the Sunni mudjahadeen, although there was also the Tehran Eight for the Shi'a.[4] His arrival in Peshawar was delayed until 1980 by imprisonment since the mid-1970s under the Daud and Taraki-Amin regimes.

While Saudi Arabia certainly was anti-Communist in principle and saw itself assisting oppressed Muslims, it also saw a geostrategic need to be sure that Iran did not become more powerful in the Muslim world, by being more helpful to the mujahideen. Their means of being sure of having the desired influence was, at first, to support the Ittehad faction of Sayyaf, as well as that of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and, perhaps surprisingly, the Sufi leader, Sayyid Ahmad Gailani.

Sayyaf arrived in Pakistan when Pakistan, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia were pressuring the parties to unite. He was elected to head a front of all the parties, the Ittehad-i-Islami B'rai Azadi-i-Afghanistan (Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan). The front quickly broke up and Sayyaf retained the name for his own party.

Operational role

Wahhabism clashes with the law and practice of the Hanafi system accepted by most Afghan Sunnis, and of the Sufi tradition of other Afghans. More than any of the other party leaders, Sayyaf recruited mujahidin through weapons and funds.

Osama bin Laden first operated in Sayyaf's area, in 1986.

Robert Baer reported that a furious Russian intelligence officer came to him in 1993, in Tajikistan, saying a Tajik jihadists had crossed the Panj River from Afghanistan and killed everyone at a Russian border post. Angrily, he demanded the CIA officer tell Saudi Arabia to leave them alone; the Afghanistan War (1978-92) was over. Puzzled, Baer couldn't understand what Saudi Arabia had to do with it; the CIA thought the group in question was Iranian-controlled. The Russian insisted they were Sayyaf's, and returned later with a list of names. On investigating, Baer found that the U.S. had no sources in Sayyaf's organization, although the U.S. had helped set up the Peshawar Seven.[5]

In 2001 he was the only Pashtun leader of the Northern Alliance.[2]

9/11 associated

According to the 9-11 Commission, Sayyaf "mentored" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, planner of the 9-11 Attack, and provided him training at his camp in Sada. [6] The Commission also said that Sayyaf later allied with Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance, the chief rival to the Taliban that gave sanctuary to al-Qaeda.

In post-combat government

He was a delegate, in 2003, to the Constitutional Loya Jirga. Dr. Farooq Wardak, head of its secretariat, said the organization originally wanted to divide the 502 delegates randomly among 10 working groups. But Sayyaf objected, suggesting that the delegates should be divided among the groups to ensure an equal distribution of professional expertise, provincial origin, gender and other criteria. "Those who know the constitution, the ulema [Islamic scholars], and the lawyers should be split into different groups so that the results of the discussion and debate will be positive, and closer to each other," said Sayyaf.[2]

During gridlock over the draft constitution in January 2004, Karzai was forced to compromise with hard-line Islamic fundamentalists like Sayyaf to include an ambiguous clause prohibiting any law from offending Islam. Critics claimed that although the constitution paid lip service to democratic rights such as equal status for women, such a clause would allow reactionary Islamic beliefs to prevail. [2]

Sayyaf's ally, Fazal Hadi Shinwari was appointed by Karzai as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In violation of the constitution, he was over the age limit and had training only in religious, not secular, law. Shinwari later transferred to be Head of the Council of Afghan [religious] Scholars.

On 6 June 2006, members of the Council of Religious Scholars requested the President of Afghanistan establish a Taliban-style Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Sheenwari was charged with establishing this entity within the framework of the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs (MHRA). [7]

In 2007, he called for war crimes amnesty for mujahedeen, saying "Whoever is against mujahedeen is against Islam and they are the enemies of this country." Attending the rally were Karim Khalili, Mohammed Qasim Fahim, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Ismail Khan and Burhanuddin Rabbani. Human Rights Watch had called for trials of Khalili, Dostum, Ismail Khan, Rabbani, Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar.[8]


  1. Lawrence Wright (2006), The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 037541486X, p. 100
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Ustad Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Globalsecurity
  3. Peter R. Blood, ed. (2001), Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Afghanistan: A Country Study, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress
  4. Thomas Ruttig, Islamists, Leftists - and a Void in the Center. Afghanistan's Political Parties and where they come from (1902-2006), Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, p. 2
  5. Robert Baer (2007), Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, Crown, ISBN 1400050219, pp. 143-145
  6. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9-11 Commission) (2004), The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 146-149
  7. Azizullah Habibi (September 2006), 4. The Department for Vice and Virtue (Amer ba Maroof wa Nahi az Munkar) established, Internews Newsletter on Freedom of Journalism in Afghanistan (no. 14)
  8. Amir Shah (23 February 2007), "Former mujahedeen stage rally in Kabul", Associated Press