Taliban five shun media attention in Qatar

Man believed to be Mohammad Nabi Omari being welcomed at an undisclosed location in Qatar (1 June 2014) After their rapturous reception in Qatar, it's thought that the five will take time to recover from 12 years in prison - much of it in solitary confinement

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The Taliban leadership in the Qatari capital Doha are keeping the five former senior members released from Guantanamo Bay out of the public eye.

A decision has been made that they will not talk to the media.

The five men were exchanged for US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in a controversial prisoner exchange a week ago.

They have not yet moved into their own accommodation in Doha, and have not left a secure compound.

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Who are the Guantanamo detainees?
  • Mohammad Fazl served as the Taliban's deputy defence minister during America's military campaign in 2001. Accused of possible war crimes, including the murder of thousands of Shia Muslims and others including Pashtuns and Tajiks.
  • Khairullah Khairkhwa was a senior Taliban official serving as interior minister and governor of Herat, Afghanistan's third largest city.
  • Abdul Haq Wasiq was the Taliban's deputy minister of intelligence. Said to have been central in forming alliances with other Islamist groups.
  • Mullah Norullah Noori was a senior Taliban military commander and a governor. Also accused of being involved in the mass killings of Shia Muslims and others.
  • Mohammad Nabi Omari Alleged to have been involved in attacks against US and coalition forces, with close links to the Haqqani network.

Freed Taliban five to choose war or peace

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Overwhelmed

Sorting out practicalities, caring for their welfare, and bringing in their families are taking priority over talking to the media.

Some of the once most feared members of the Taliban are now living among some of the richest people in the world, reports Mark Lobel

And after 12 years in prison - much of it in solitary confinement - sources close to the five say most are in no fit state to talk to the outside world.

As they come to terms with freedom, the men have been overwhelmed by calls and meetings with Afghan well-wishers.

One of them, the former deputy head of Taliban intelligence, Abdul Haq Wasiq, told a source that he was having difficulty recognising people, and all of the men feared they might still be returned to Guantanamo Bay.

Senator John McCain (4 June 2014) US Senator John McCain has been highly critical of the prisoner swap deal

The exact terms of their stay in Qatar are not known, but are understood to include a commitment by the government to the US that the five men will not be able to return to Afghanistan for a year.

The Taliban leadership want to be seen to be caring for the five men as well as the US is caring for Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier released in a prisoner swap.

They do not want to put the five up in front of cameras while Bergdahl is being kept away from the media, in a military hospital in Germany.

The Taliban in Doha, led by Tayyeb Agha, are wary of the media.

They opened a public office a year ago, only to be forced to close it again quickly because the Afghan government protested when the flying of the Taliban flag, and a sign at the gate, proclaimed this to be the real government of Afghanistan.

The Afghan government would prefer to negotiate with the Taliban directly on Afghan soil, not through intermediaries abroad.

Taliban office in Doha (June 2013) The Taliban's office in Doha has been closed down but the militants are thought to have a strong presence in the emirate
US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (C) sitting in a pick-up truck shortly before his handover (4 June 2014) The Taliban want to give the impression that they care for the five released men as well as the US is caring for Bowe Bergdahl (pictured at the time of his release on 4 June)

Kabul has been trying to sideline the Doha Taliban, instead promoting other ex-Taliban members, such as Mutasim Agha Jan, now living in Kabul under Afghan government security.

Although he fell out with the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Mr Jan is seen as someone who might deliver some elements in the Taliban to the negotiating table.

But a public message by Mullah Omar, congratulating those who carried out the exchange, strengthens the claim by Tayyeb Agha and his Doha team that they are the legitimate political face of the movement.

Any movement on peace talks will now have to wait for the new Afghan government to emerge.

The final round of voting in the presidential election is on 14 June, and the new president will not take office until mid-August.

The five ex-Guantanamo Bay detainees were arrested soon after the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

According to a well-respected research organisation, the Afghan Analysts Network (AAN) some of the men were trying to make contact with the new government when they were arrested.

Two went willingly to meetings of reconciliation, but instead were betrayed and taken directly to Guantanamo Bay.

Kate Clark of the AAN said that only one of the five, Mohammad Fazl, carried out attacks that should be investigated as war crimes.

She says that he ended up as one of the most important and feared commanders of the emirate and was head of the army staff in 2001.

Afghan commandos in Ghazni province (3 June 2014) It is not clear how much of a threat the five men will pose to the Afghan army

Incidents connected with his name include two of the most notorious incidents during the time of the Taliban - widespread clearance of people and destruction of property in the Shomali plain north of Kabul in 1999, and the murder of thousands of Hazaras close to Bamyan in the months before the fall of the Taliban government.

It is unclear how much of a threat the five men still pose to security in Afghanistan.

US opponents of President Obama have expressed concern about "trading with terrorists".

The protests have been led by Senator John McCain, who has complained that "vicious and violent" men are being returned to the battlefield.

But for now the five men remain out of the public gaze, swapping prison walls for a secured compound in Doha, under the watchful eye of Qatari security.

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