Supporters of al Qaeda and other extremist social media accounts posted triumphant messages this week after the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan, sparking renewed concerns that the country could function as a haven for terror groups following the impending U.S. withdrawal.
Pro-al Qaeda social media accounts posted an unsigned message on Monday after the Taliban entered the capital city of Kabul and prompted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country. The message congratulated “the brothers” – a reference to Taliban militants – following the takeover.“Afghanistan is Conquered and Islam has Won,” the message said, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a non-governmental organization that monitors jihadist social media accounts.
The Wall Street Journal was first to report on the messages.
Hamas issued a similar celebratory statement following the fall of Kabul, lauding the Taliban’s return as a “defeat of the American occupation on all Afghan lands.” Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Somalia’s al-Shabaab also released congratulatory messages, according to Reuters.
The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan two decades after U.S. and allied forces invaded the country to oust the regime from power for providing support to al Qaeda. The Biden administration drew widespread criticism following the group’s rapid advance this month, with critics wondering how security collapsed so quickly after more than $2 trillion in spending and years of military toil.
The Wall Street Journal reported members of al Qaeda and a local affiliate were among those released when the Taliban recaptured Bagram Air Base, a former U.S. military outpost.
Nathan Sales, a former State Department counterterrorism coordinator and a senior fellow for the Atlantic Council, warned the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the Taliban’s return to power made it “virtually certain that al-Qaeda will reestablish a safe haven in Afghanistan and use it to plot attacks on the United States.”
“The terrorist group responsible for 9/11 will soon find itself flush with cash looted from Afghanistan’s central bank, with weapons seized from the defeated Afghan army, and with fighters freed from prison,” Sales said.
President Biden addressed concerns about a renewed terror threat in an address earlier this week, arguing the U.S. has effectively countered extremists in other countries in which it does not have a permanent presence.
“If necessary, we will do the same in Afghanistan,” Biden said. “We’ve developed counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region and to act quickly and decisively if needed.”