News reports now say the suicide bomber may have been a former prisoner who was released by then-President Hamid Karzai in 2014. Afghanistan’s 1TV News and Khaama Press have reported that the alleged bomber, Abdul Wali, had been detained at Bagram prison but released when Karzai freed dozens of inmates over the objections of U.S. officials.
Wali’s detention surfaced in a video that the Taliban released this week honoring him as the suicide bomber in the April 19 attack.
In the video, Wali says his “faith became much stronger” while he was in prison.
“In the past, I did not have so much faith and rapture until imprisonment,” he says, without specifically mentioning Bagram.
By releasing the video, the Taliban appears to be trying to suggest that combatants become even stronger and more faithful once imprisoned.
A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said security officials are “aware of the reports” that Wali may have been released from Bagram under Karzai and “are investigating the matter.”
A list of Bagram prisoners obtained by the ACLU in 2010 — and later synthesized by activist and author Andy Worthington — includes the name Abdul Wali, but both the first and the last name are fairly common in Afghanistan. The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, which oversaw Bagram prison until 2013, had no comment on the reports about Wali.
The reports, however, are likely to stoke debate about Afghanistan’s detention policy. It could also influence the ongoing debate in the United States over President Obama’s efforts to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
When Karzai ordered the prison release from Bagram, he argued that the men had been held unconstitutionally by the international coalition.
At the time, relations between the United States and Karzai, then in his second term, were rapidly deteriorating. Karzai was also attempting to jump-start peace talks with Taliban leaders.
As the prisoners were being released, the coalition issued a statement saying that the men included “dangerous individuals” who posed “a threat to U.S., coalition, and Afghan National Security Forces, as well as the Afghan population.” U.S. diplomats also pleaded with Karzai to reconsider.
Overall, however, there have been only scattered reports of former Bagram prisoners rejoining the insurgency.
But in 2007, Karzai’s government released a militant commander, Abdul Qayyum Zakir, after U.S. officials transferred him to Afghan custody from Guantanamo Bay. Zakir went on to become a top Taliban commander.
The scale of the April 19 attack has put pressure on Ghani to get tougher with Taliban inmates. In the past few years, Afghan leaders had halted executions of militants convicted by the courts. The pause was generally viewed as an effort by the leaders to persuade the Taliban to join peace talks.
On Monday, amid pressure from frustrated Afghans, Ghani announced a resumption of the executions.
His response, including a warning that the Afghan military will step up raids against Taliban targets, underscores just how rattled Kabul remains.
In the days after the attack, there was considerably less traffic on the streets of the capital — suggesting that residents feared venturing outdoors because of the security situation.
Some drivers are altering their commutes to avoid being on the road during the morning rush hour, when attacks often occur. Security consultants for diplomatic missions and other high-profile organizations are reevaluating their defenses against truck bombs, which until recently were rarely deployed by the Taliban in urban areas.
Coalition officials said that, based on preliminary information, it appears as if the bomb was put together in Kabul, a change from the past, when such devices were often made in Pakistan or in Taliban strongholds in eastern Afghanistan.
The April 19 bombing is believed to be the largest explosion in Kabul in recent times.
Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.