The hunt is on for the men who orchestrated the terror attack on Kabul airport that killed at least 170 people including 13 US troops, after Joe Biden warned ‘we will hunt you down and make you pay’.
Early suspicion is likely to fall on Khalil Haqqani, the self-appointed head of security at Kabul airport who has links to ISIS-K – the splinter group which has claimed responsibility for the deadly blast.
Along with his nephews Sirajuddin and Anas, Khalil helps to run the Haqqani network which is designated a terrorist organisation by the US and responsible for some of the deadliest and highest-profile attacks within Afghanistan over the course of America’s 20-year war.
Though it is part of the Taliban, observers believe the Haqqani network – based in Afghanistan’s east, with rumoured bases across the border in Pakistan – enjoys a great deal of autonomy due to its fearsome reputation.
That means, unlike the rest of the Taliban which is ideologically opposed to ISIS, the Haqqanis are thought to have cooperated with the ISIS-K splinter group to carry out attacks between 2019 and this year.
For that reason, Khalil – who was pictured in Kabul just a few days ago despite having a $5million American bounty on his head – is likely to face scrutiny over how the bomber who attacked Kabul airport was able to get through Taliban checkpoints and reach a gate being manned by US troops before detonating his device.
Khalil Haqqani, the self-appointed head of security at Kabul airport, has links through the Haqqani network which he helps lead to ISIS-K – the splinter group that has claimed responsibility for the bomb attack on the airstrip
Haqqani, a wanted terrorist with a $5million bounty on his head, was pictured in Kabul just last week giving a speech at a mosque in which he promised to bring security to Afghanistan (above)
A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the terrorist attack which killed over 100 people outside Kabul airport
A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of the suicide bomb which killed at least 170 people. Blood can be seen splattered across the clothes and walls
British troops were seen securing the perimeter outside the Baron Hotel, near the Abbey Gate in Kabul on Thursday following the bombing
The British soldiers are seen securing the perimeter outside the Baron Hotel on Thursday night near a road which leads to the Abbey Gate of Kabul airport
As the BBC’s chief defence correspondent Frank Gardner put it: ‘The challenge for [ISIS] was to get past checkpoints which they obviously managed to do, and that will inevitably prompt some questions as to whether somebody in the Taliban administration nodded them past.
‘There is no evidence of that so far but that is an avenue that the US will want to pursue…
‘There are [sympathies within the Taliban for ISIS-K] and I think the common link here is probably the Haqqani network… You have got links, tenuous links but links, between the Haqqani network and some ISIS members.’
Khalil is the brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Haqqani network which formed in the late 1970s to fight against the Soviet occupation and which – for a time – was trained by the CIA.
The group continued to be a major force within Afghanistan after the Soviets departed, and formed part of the Taliban administration that ruled during the 1990s before the US invaded.
Khalil is the uncle of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the terrorist network and the Taliban’s deputy leader
In the wake of the invasion, the Haqqanis are thought to have aided Bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora before turning their attention to attacking US troops.
Khalil is known to be well-connected to both jihadist groups and legitimate governments. As well as working with the CIA in the 1980s, he is thought to have links to Pakistani intelligence as well as to al Qaeda and ISIS.
As a leader of the Haqqani network, he has been connected to some of the worst atrocities carried out during the US war in Afghanistan – including the September 2011 attacks on the US Embassy, International Security Assistance Force headquarters, the Afghan Presidential Palace, and the Afghan National Directorate of Security.
The group is also thought to have put together one of the largest IEDs ever discovered – a 61,000lbs bomb found near a US base on the Pakistani border in 2013 that, thankfully, failed to detonate.
Khalil is currently a senior leader within the organisation, though he is not its supreme leader. That title belongs to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the eldest son of founder Jalaluddin who is now also the Taliban’s deputy leader.
In recent years, the Haqqani network has been linked to attacks carried out by ISIS-K which included a gun and bomb attack on a maternity ward in Kabul in which heavily pregnant women and newborns were killed.
According to Dr Sajjan Gohel, of the Asia Pacific Foundation, ‘several major attacks between 2019 and 2021 involved collaboration between IS-K, the Taliban’s Haqqani network and other terror groups based in Pakistan.’
Khalil was seen in Kabul just last week, giving a speech to crowds at the city’s largest mosque in which he vowed that ‘Afghan security’ was his top priority.
‘If there is no security, there is no life. We will give security, then we will give economy, trade, education for men and women. There will be no discrimination’, he told the crowd which applauded his words.
Khalil was designated a terrorist leader by the US in 2010 and a $5million bounty was placed on his head, which remains in place to this day.
Injured victims of the airport bomb blast, receive treatment at a hospital in Kabul on Friday as they are comforted by relatives
Horrifying footage from Kabul airport shows dozens of Afghans lying in blood after a ISIS suicide bomber attacked crowds who were hoping to flee the Taliban
A Taliban fighter stands guard on Friday at the site of a powerful explosion, which killed scores of people
With high-profile posts in the new administration and a deputy leadership role within the Taliban, the Haqqani family now look set to become a prominent role in post-America Afghanistan.
Questions swirled about Khalil’s involvement in the Kabul airport bombing as it was revealed that two Britons and the child of another British national were killed in the attack – alongside 13 US Marines.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab mourned the ‘innocent people’ and called it a ‘tragedy’ that they were ‘murdered by cowardly terrorists’ as they tried to bring their loved ones to the UK.
‘I was deeply saddened to learn that two British nationals and the child of another British national were killed by yesterday’s terror attack, with two more injured,’ he said in a statement.
‘Yesterday’s despicable attack underlines the dangers facing those in Afghanistan and reinforces why we are doing all we can to get people out. We are offering consular support to their families.
‘We will not turn our backs on those who look to us in their hour of need, and we will never be cowed by terrorists,’ he added.
The announcement of the three deaths came as Pentagon officials said that there was only one suicide bomber involved in the attack, and not two as had been previously claimed, further adding to the fears and confusion over the ongoing evacuation operation on the ground.
Speaking at a briefing on Friday, U.S. Army General Hank Taylor said: ‘I can confirm that we do not believe there was a second explosion at or near the Baron hotel. It was one suicide bomber. In the confusion of very dynamic events can cause information to get confused.’ He added: ‘We’re not sure how that report was provided incorrectly’, adding that it was ‘important to correct the record.’
Thousands of desperate Afghans are arriving at the airport despite the constant threat of another terrorist attack after the bombing which killed at least 170 people, including 13 American service personnel.
But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace admitted earlier that up to 1,100 eligible Afghans and another 150 Britons will be left behind. Mr Wallace said that the last UK flights would leave within hours.
Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the Foreign Affairs committee, said this filled him with ‘anger and shame’ and warned ‘we may find ourselves with the biggest hostage crisis the UK has ever seen.’
The former Lieutenant Colonel said the UK now has ‘no influence’ over the Taliban except by asking them to help people ‘they are quite happy to kill.’
A relative mourns next to the body of a loved one who died in the airport bomb blast at a hospital in Kabul on Friday
The daylight reveals the bloodied clothes and belongings of Afghan people who were waiting to be evacuated area before the bomb was detonated
Meanwhile, a growing number of MPs from across the political spectrum have accused the Government of ‘failing’ in its mission to keep Afghan staff safe by not completing the evacuations.
Mr Tugendhat added: ‘Defeat means you don’t get a say… we have just been defeated, we have no influence over Kabul anymore.’
‘We have no influence over the behavior of the Taliban except by asking them nicely and luring them with aid to help people who they are quite happy to kill,’ he said, adding that this is ‘our moment to stand with’ the people left in Kabul.
Mr Tugendhat’s grave warning comes after Mr Wallace said British forces will try to ‘find a few people in the crowds’ that they are able to evacuate but admitted that not everyone will be flown out to safety.
The effort will now focus on evacuating UK nationals and others who have already been cleared to leave and are already at the airport.
Mr Wallace said: ‘We will process the people that we’ve brought with us, the 1,000 people approximately in the airfield now and we will seek a way to continue to find a few people in the crowds where we can, but overall the main processing is now closed and we have a matter of hours.’
‘It is with deep regret that not everyone has been able to be evacuated during this process,’ he added.