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Usama bin Ladin’s ‘Father Sheikh – Yunus Khalis and the Return of al-Qaida’s Leadership to Afghanistan

Usama bin Ladin’s ‘Father Sheikh – Yunus Khalis and the Return of al-Qaida’s Leadership to Afghanistan published on

Authored by U.S. Military Academy

The year 1996 was a watershed moment for Usama bin Ladin. It was a time of transition in which he fled Sudan in exile, returned to Afghanistan with the leadership of al-Qaida and wrote a letter (risala) declaring war against the Saudi Kingdom and the United States. Prior to publishing his risala in August of that year, Usama bin Ladin sought legal backing for a declaration of jihad against the ongoing American presence in Saudi Arabia from prominent religious scholars (ulama) including Yunus Khalis. The scant available evidence suggests that at that time Bin Ladin and Khalis had a friendly relationship dating back to the days of the anti-Soviet jihad, when Yunus Khalis had led one of the most important mujahidin political parties in eastern Afghanistan. In fact, Bin Ladin was probably staying in a residence at Khalis’s Najm al-Jihad neighborhood shortly before he issued a call for support for his forthcoming declaration of jihad. But if Bin Ladin was hoping for a positive response on the basis of his personal connection to Khalis, he was to be disappointed.
In his answer to Usama bin Ladin, Khalis reasoned that as long as the lawful government in Riyadh continued to allow the Americans to stay as guests, then no jihad was permissible. Additionally, Khalis argued that it was foolish to work for the overthrow of the Saudi government since any replacement would probably be a less enthusiastic supporter of Islamic law (shari a). In other words, Khalis apparently rebuked Usama bin Ladin’s extremist ideology at the precise moment when the al-Qaida leader had chosen to publicly declare an international jihad against the Saudi Kingdom and its American allies.
Abd al-Kabir Talai expands on this anecdote by explaining that Yunus Khalis had initially attempted to mediate between the Saudi government and Usama bin Ladin after the relationship between the two parties soured earlier in the 1990s. According to Talai’s account, Khalis was able to get the Saudis to agree to negotiate with Bin Ladin, but the talks fell through because the al-Qaida leader set unacceptable conditions for a normalization of relations. Even though Bin Ladin apparently appreciated Khalis’s friendship and personal support enough to refer to him as “the Father Sheikh,” the only known primary sources relate that every time Khalis offered Bin Ladin political advice, the al-Qaida leader ignored him.
These episodes, never before reported in the secondary literature, come from a group of several previously unstudied primary sources in Pashto on the life of Yunus Khalis, which form the basis of this report. These sources are an excellent starting point for a critique of the current literature on Khalis’s connection to al-Qaida, in part because they depart so radically from the currently dominant depictions of Yunus Khalis as an ultraconservative sexual predator who became the key al-Qaida supporter in Nangarhar when Bin Ladin fled Sudan.

Publication Date:
Apr 03 2014
1497529654 / 9781497529656
Page Count:
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
8.5″ x 11″
Black and White
Related Categories:
Political Science / Political Freedom & Security / Terrorism


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