KANDAHAR: One of the five senior Taliban figures released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for a US soldier wants to rejoin the Afghan militant group but to work for peace, his relative said yesterday.
Norullah Noori is accused of taking part in the 1998 massacre of thousands of Shias when he was governor of the northern province of Balkh.
He and the four others were released on Saturday and flown to the Gulf state of Qatar in exchange for US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
“After he was released we talked to him and he is very willing to return to Afghanistan,” Noori’s cousin Abdullah said in a telephone interview.
“He says he wants to join the Taliban again and bring changes to Taliban. He says Afghanistan needs peace now and he will work for peace with the Taliban,” Abdullah said, denying Noori’s involvement in the 1998 massacre.
Khairullah Khairkhwa, also freed Saturday, has expressed a similar desire to push for talks to end Afghanistan’s long conflict “but not under the so-called peace council programmes”, a close relative said via a video call from Pakistan. The relative did not wish to be identified.
The Taliban have publicly refused to talk peace with the Afghan government, accusing President Hamid Karzai of being an American puppet.
But some moderate elements are believed to have broken ranks and engaged in dialogue, raising hopes for peace as Washington prepares to pull out the bulk of its troops from the country by the end of the year.
The allegations around Noori centre on an August 1998 massacre of up to 8,000 Shias at the hands of the Taliban, who were avenging the killing of 2,000 of their own men the year before.
Noori’s Guantanamo Bay detention file notes he is “wanted by the United Nations for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shias”.
However, the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a think-tank, said no clear evidence has been presented to back up the allegation.
Bergdahl -- the only US soldier held by the Taliban after being captured in Afghanistan -- was freed under the dramatic deal brokered by Qatar.
Mohammad Fazl, Mohammad Nabi and Abdul Haq Wasiq were the other Taliban members to be freed.
All five were influential officials in the Taliban regime driven from power by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.
Their release has evoked sharp criticism from some US politicians, who fear they could return to the battlefield and pose a threat to Americans abroad. AFP