by Michael Hughes
April 23, 2022
Sirajuddin Haqqani (سِراج الدّين حقاني) is a deputy leader of the Taliban, acting interior minister of the Afghan state since August of 2021, and a U.S. designated global terrorist with a $10 million bounty on his head. Notorious for his jihadi zeal and strong ties to al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence, Sirajuddin also heads the Haqqani Network, a militant group founded by his father that was the most lethal faction within the Taliban umbrella during the post-9/11 insurgency.
A Most Lethal Commander
Sirajuddin was born in 1979, son of the famous mujahideen commander and Haqqani Network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, himself a longtime associate of Osama bin Laden and a U.S. ally in the war against the Soviets. Sirajuddin is one among seven sons Jalaluddin had with his first of two wives. He spent his childhood in Miramshah, North Waziristan, Pakistan and later attended Darul Uloom Haqqania, an influential Deobandi Islamic seminary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – from which many future Taliban graduated.
Haqqani became world-renown for his role in high-profile terrorist attacks and suicide bombings inside Afghanistan. He coordinated and participated in cross-border attacks, some of the bloodiest, targeting Afghan, U.S. and coalition forces.
The Haqqani Network attacks grew increasingly fiercer after his father handed Sirajuddin operational leadership of the group in 2008. He would become the group’s official leader after Jalaluddin’s death due to illness in 2018.
Sirajuddin shifted the network to a more radical ideological position than his father embraced. He also pursued far more lethal tactics including the use of death squads for public executions, videos of mass beheadings, and suicide bombings. One U.S. intelligence official told Jane’s Information Group that Sirajuddin “tends to be more violent than his father ever was.”
Sirajuddin Haqqani confessed to planning the January 2008 assault on the Kabul Serena Hotel that killed six people and the failed attempt to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai in that very same year.
His forces allegedly conducted the December 2008 bombing at a barracks near an elementary school in Kabul that killed several schoolchildren and two Afghan security personnel.
In February of 2010, the year he rose to become a leading member of the Quetta Shura, Haqqani was targeted in a massive U.S. drone attack which killed his brother Muhammad.
Taliban Deputy Leader
In 2015, Haqqani became one of the Taliban supreme leader’s top deputies, a role Pentagon analysts felt solidified Haqqani influence and allowed the network to expand its reach inside Afghanistan while providing the movement with additional operational and planning capabilities.
Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada put Haqqani in charge of Taliban activities in 20 Afghan provinces, including the capital city of Kabul, while the other fourteen remained with his other second deputy, Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob.
Sirajuddin and the other Haqqani leaders continually pushed the Taliban to execute more sophisticated terrorist attacks targeting high numbers of people that resulted in significant civilian casualties.
In fact, the Haqqani Network was the first element within the Taliban to embrace suicide bombings, a practice it learned from al-Qaeda. It was not so shocking to see some Haqqani members, who apparently found the Taliban too tame, defect to Islamic State-Khorasan, including senior leader Saad Emirati.
Haqqani was the mastermind behind the 12-hour siege of the Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul in 2018 by a group of gunmen wielding light weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. The attack left forty people dead, including fourteen foreigners.
John Allen, former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said Haqqani in orchestrating these activities had the full support of Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
In addition, Islamabad reportedly saw Haqqani as an asset on many fronts including serving as a “diplomatic” liaison in dealings with the leadership of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
On February 20, 2020, less than ten days before the Taliban signed the Doha withdrawal pact with U.S. counterparts, The New York Times controversially published an op-ed penned by Haqqani entitled, “What We, the Taliban, Want.” In the article, the man responsible for the most vicious large-scale terror attacks in Afghanistan during the previous twenty plus years, said he was convinced that “the killing and the maiming must stop.”
Ironically, a UN Security Council report in June of 2021 said Haqqani was among the hardliners reported by member states that opposed peace talks and favored a military solution. The same report said Haqqani is a member of the “wider Al-Qaeda leadership.”
The Jihadi Justice Minister
Sirajuddin continues to collaborate with foreign fighters including from al-Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, and members of Central Asian jihadi groups, according to the Soufan Group. In 2021, Afghanistan expert Melissa Skorka said Haqqani “marches in lockstep with his al-Qaeda base.”
In an undated audio clip that went viral online in April of 2022, Haqqani claimed the Prophet Mohammad himself led the suicide attack on the Kabul International Hotel in 2018 while in the background his followers can be herd weeping in fanatical ecstasy over the sacrifice of the so-called martyrs. Haqqani also promised generous pensions and property to the families of fallen suicide attackers.
During this 33-minute speech, Sirajuddin suggested more terror attacks would be forthcoming against the Taliban’s enemies, signaling his aspiration to maintain his position as one of the movement’s primary military strategists.
In his high-level position in the Taliban government, Haqqani controls internal security forces, directs intelligence operations, and appoints provincial governors. Some analysts are concerned that given his control of the Interior Ministry, Haqqani now has the power to issue official passports to al-Qaeda operatives and their allies.
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