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Ustad Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf[2] (/ɑːbˈdl rəˈsl sˈjɑːf/ (About this soundlisten) ahb-DOOL rə-SOOL sy-YAHF; Pashto: عبدالرب الرسول سیاف‎, born 1946, Paghman, Kabul Province, Afghanistan) is an Afghan politician and former mujahideen commander. He took part in the war against the PDPA government in the 1980s, leading the Afghan mujahideen faction Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan. His party General secretary Maiwand Safa and youngest member of the party also.

Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf
Abdul Rasul Sayyaf.jpg
Abdul Rasul Sayyaf in 1984
Born1946 (age 72–73)
Known forAfghan mujahideen, opposition to the Taliban, politician[1]

During the war, he received patronage from Arab sources and mobilized Arab volunteers for the mujahideen forces. Sayyaf is said to have been the one who first invited Osama bin Laden to take refuge in Afghanistan (Jalalabad), after bin Laden's 1996 expulsion from Sudan by the otherwise sympathetic Sudanese régime under Saudi, Egyptian, and American pressure.[citation needed]

In 2005, Sayyaf's Ittehad-al-Islami (or Islamic Union) was converted into the political party, the Islamic Dawah Organisation of Afghanistan. He has been considered a member of the Northern Alliance,[3] despite his close relationship with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda that opposed it. He has also been accused of having knowingly assisted the two assassins that killed Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud in a suicide bomb blast two days before the attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001.



Sayyaf is an ethnic Pashtun.[4] Sayyaf (سياف) is an Arabic word that means "the person who is skilled with the sword." He is fluent in Arabic and holds a degree in religion from Kabul University and a masters from the illustrious Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. He has been described as "a big, beefy man with fair skin and a thick gray beard." Sayyaf is reported to be approximately 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) in height and weigh 250 lb (110 kg). "He usually wears a white skullcap or a large turban, and a traditional Afghan shalwar kameez, a tunic with loose pants."[5] He was also noted for his photographic memory : Abdullah Anas, one of the leading Afghan Arabs, recalls in his memoirs that "once when the hugely influential Abu'l Hassan al-Nadawi, known as the Syed Qutb of India, was delivering a lecture at Kabul University, Sayyaf translated the whole lecture into Persian word for word without mistakes after the former had finished delivering the entire lecture."[6]

Sayyaf was a member of the Afghan-based Ikhwan al-Muslimin, founded in 1969 by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Dr. Burhanuddin Rabbani and having strong links to the original and much larger Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Ustad (Professor) Abdul was a professor at the Shariat (Islamic law) faculty of Kabul University until 1973, when he plotted with Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to overthrow President Daoud Khan. The coup failed and he was forced to flee to Pakistan[2] but was arrested when he returned.[citation needed]

Soviet time and Bin Laden friendshipEdit

Sayyaf (left) as Afghan mujahideen commander in 1984.

Being imprisoned by the Communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in April 1978, he was freed in controversial circumstances by the second PDPA leader Hafizullah Amin, who, coincidentally, happened to be Sayyaf's distant relative.[citation needed] Although, by virtue of him being incarcerated, and, consequently not arriving in Peshawar until 1980, until after the actual Soviet intervention, he was recognized by the Pakistanis as the leader of the Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan (Ittihad-i-Islami Baraye Azadi Afghanistan), a coalition of several parties fighting the Soviet and Afghan government forces. The Islamic Union soon imploded, and Sayyaf retained the name as the title of his own organization.

Sayyaf fought against Soviet occupying forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s, and was generously financed, and apparently favoured, by Saudi Arabia, seemingly due to his close religious affinities with the Wahhabist Saudi Royal and religious establishment and above mentioned excellent command of the Arabic language. During the jihad against the Soviet Union and its Afghan allies, he formed a close relationship with Osama bin Laden.[7] Together in the Jalalabad area they established a training camp network, later used by Al-Qaeda personnel, with bunkers and emplacements.[citation needed] In 1981, Sayyaf formed and headed the Ittihad-i-Islami Baraye Azadi Afghanistan, or Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan. In 1985, he founded a university in an Afghan refugee camp near Peshawar called Dawa'a al-Jihad, (Call of Jihad), which has been described the "preeminent school for terrorism." Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who masterminded the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, attended it.

Despite his growing wealth, he continued to live a spartan life, avoiding modern conveniences like mattresses and air conditioning; although he enjoyed a nightly game of tennis.[8]

During the post-war period, Sayyaf retained his training camps, using them for militarily training and indoctrinating new recruits to fight in Islamic-backed conflicts such as Chechnya, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in the Southern Philippines, where his name inspired the Abu Sayyaf group. Also, in these camps, Sayyaf trained and mentored the soon-to-be-infamous, Kuwaiti-born, future Al-Qaeda operative and senior commander, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, after being introduced by the latter's brother, Zahid, during the Afghan Jihad in 1987.

War in Afghanistan (1989–1996)Edit

After the forced withdrawal of the demoralised Soviet forces in 1989, and the overthrow of the Mohammad Najibullah regime in 1992, Sayyaf's organization's human rights record became noticeably worse, underlined by their involvement in the infamous massacres and rampages in the Hazara Kabul neighbourhood of Afshar.[9] In 1993, during the Afghan civil war, Sayyaf's faction was responsible for, "repeated human butchery", when his faction of Mujahideen turned on civilians and the Shia Hezb-i Wahdat group.[5] Amnesty International reported that Sayyaf's forces rampaged through the mainly Shi'ite Tajik (Qizilbash) Afshar neighbourhood of Kābul, slaughtering and raping inhabitants and burning homes.[10]

War in Afghanistan (1996–2001)Edit

Sayyaf claimed and claims he is a vituperative opponent of the like-minded Taliban movement, which is the reason he officially joined the Northern Alliance, despite his aforementioned religious and ideological affinities with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Sayyaf is said to have helped the Arab suicide assassins who killed the Northern Alliance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud. He is rumored to have helped during their preparations, raising suspicion he was involved in killing Massoud.[5] Massoud was killed when the Arab suicide attackers posing as journalists detonated a bomb hidden in their video camera.

Constitutional Loya Jirga (2003)Edit

In 2003, Sayyaf was elected as one of the 502 representatives at the Constitutional Loya Jirga in Kabul, chairing one of the working groups. Originally wanted Loya Jirga intended to divide the 502 delegates randomly among 10 working groups, but Sayyaf objected, suggesting delegates be divided among the groups to ensure equal distribution of professional expertise, provincial origin, gender and other criteria. "Those who know the constitution, the ulema [Islamic scholars], and the lawyers should be split into different groups so that the results of the discussion and debate will be positive, and closer to each other," said Sayyaf.

Abdul Sayyaf's influence in the convention was felt further when his ally Fazal Hadi Shinwari was appointed by Hamid Karzai as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in violation of the constitution, as Fazal was over the age limit and trained only in religious, not secular, law. Shinwari packed the Supreme Court with sympathetic mullahs, called for Taliban-style punishments and renewed Taliban's dreaded Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, renamed the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs.

Present ActivitiesEdit

As of 2007, Sayyaf is an influential member of parliament and has called for an amnesty for former mujahideen.[1]

Sayyaf was an announced candidate for the President of Afghanistan in the 2014 election, in which he received 7.04% of the vote in the first round, as the candidate for the aforementioned Islamic Dawah Organisation of Afghanistan, and winning Kandahar Province.


  1. ^ a b Shah, Amir (23 February 2007). "Former Mujahedeen Stage Rally in Kabul". Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Ustad Abdul Rasul Sayyaf". Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  3. ^ Layden-Stevenson, Justice. This Party youngest member is Maiwand Safa and general secretary of the party. "Hassan Almrei and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and Solicitor General for Canada", "Reasons for Order and Order", 5 December 2005
  4. ^ "Afghan ex-warlord escapes attack". BBC News. 20 November 2009.
  5. ^ a b c John Lee Anderson. The Lion's Grave (26 November 2002 ed.). Atlantic Books. p. 224. ISBN 1-84354-118-1.
  6. ^ Abdullah Anas, To the Mountains: My Life in Jihad, from Algeria to Afghanistan, C. Hurst & Co. (2019), p. 42
  7. ^ Warren, Marcus (3 December 2001). "Former bin Laden mentor warns the West". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 April 2008.
  8. ^ Shephard, Michelle (2008). Guantanamo's Child. John Wiley & Sons.
  9. ^ "Ittihad". Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan’s Legacy of Impunity. Human Rights Watch. 2005. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  10. ^ Phil Rees (2 December 2001). "A personal account". BBC News. Retrieved 21 April 2008.