A well-known former Afghan warlord who welcomed Usama bin Laden and Al Qaeda fighters to his training camps in the 1990s and was a mentor to the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks is one of the candidates running to be the country's next president in elections next April.
Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf, 67, registered as a candidate Thursday in Kabul, saying, "I am hopeful that the nation will decide wisely and that their decision will lead to a prosperous future, which will ensure the honor and pride of this nation in this world and the world after."
The next Afghan president will decide whether to allow any U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan after next year.
President Hamid Karzai by law can't run in the next election.
The 9/11 commission report describes Sayyaf as a mentor to 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, saying he “provided KSM with military training" at one of his camps.
But former U.S. officials who served in Afghanistan say it would be a mistake to write off Sayyaf - that he is a staunch opponent of the Taliban and also no friend of Iran.
Robert Neuman, former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, calls Sayyaf “a man who knows which side his interests lie on. They lie very much with the United States, with the coalition. I would not, I'm not really worried about his moving toward Al Qaeda or his being a terrorist. I'm worried about whether he could govern Afghanistan."
He added, “I'm not trying to whitewash the guy, but there are multiple sides here and we, and the news media, frankly, should be looking at all of them, particularly in view of thinking about what kind of a country someone’s going to have govern.”
A Human Rights Watch Report from 2005 outlined the actions of Sayyaf's militia in the 1990s as "crimes against humanity," saying, "The acts detailed… amount to war crimes. Commanders involved in specific commissions of these crimes, and factional leaders who ordered abuses, are liable and can be prosecuted."
Kathy Gannon, author of “I is for Infidel: From Holy War to Holy Terror in Afghanistan,” called Sayyaf “probably the closest of the leaders to the Arab fighters in Afghanistan who came during the 1980s, including Usama bin Laden, who came to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets.
Gannon, an AP reporter, recalls in her book how Sayyaf's militia raped and scalped five ethnic Hazara women during the 1990s when he was in Kabul. An old Hazara man threw the blood-soaked hair at her feet and then showed her the bodies of the five women, who were his relatives.