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FBI Director Christopher Wray was “not surprised” al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahri was in a Kabul home owned by Haqqani Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani — seemingly confirming details about the strike the Biden administration hasn’t yet.

The White House has said Haqqani Taliban officials were aware of al Zawahri’s presence in Afghanistan, and they had tried to cover up his presence post-strike but have declined to confirm reports that he was staying at a safe house linked to Haqqani.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) praised the strike as a “good thing” during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, and asked Wray if he was “surprised that, one, he was in Kabul, al Zawahri, staying at the house, a guest house owned by the Haqqani No. 2 guy of the Taliban?”

Wray replied that he was “not surprised, but disappointed.”

Graham followed up by asking: “What does it tell us about the relationship between al Qaeda and the Taliban if the leader of al Qaeda is staying in a house owned by the No. 2 guy in the Taliban?”

“Nothing good,” Wray replied.

TERRORIST RESPONSIBLE FOR BLACK HAWK DOWN MAY BE NEXT AL QAEDA LEADER

The Taliban, the Haqqani network, and al Qaeda remain deeply intertwined in Afghanistan. The Taliban gave al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan before 9/11, and they continue to protect and fight alongside it for two decades after the U.S. invasion. Numerous members of the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network received top positions in the Taliban’s government last year after its rapid takeover amid a chaotic U.S. withdrawal. Sirajuddin Haqqani became the deputy head of the Taliban and its interior minister.

When asked Tuesday if Haqqani had been aware that al Zawahri was in Kabul, National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby wouldn’t answer directly: “There were senior members of the Haqqani network that were aware. I’m not going to go any further than that."

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre deferred to Kirby when asked similar questions.

“Senior Haqqani Taliban figures were aware of Zawahri’s presence in Kabul,” a senior Biden official said Monday. “We are also aware that Haqqani Taliban members took actions after the strike to conceal Zawahri’s former presence at the location."

The Associated Press reported the safe house where al Zawahri was staying “was the home of a top aide to" Haqqani, according to a “senior U.S. intelligence official.” The New York Times originally said the house "was owned by a top aide to" Haqqani, according to “one American analyst,” although it modified that to saying “the safe house was owned by an aide to senior officials in the Haqqani network” in a subsequent story.

Wray said in September he was concerned that Haqqani received a top role in the Taliban government.

The Biden administration has attempted to draw a distinction between the Haqqanis and the Taliban.

The State Department has repeatedly said the Taliban and the Haqqani network are "separate entities," although it has admitted they are affiliated.

The Pentagon said last year there is "commingling" and "marbling" between the Taliban and the Haqqanis, while national security adviser Jake Sullivan said, "The Taliban, obviously, to a considerable extent, are integrated with the Haqqani Network."

Kirby also declined to say Tuesday what repercussions there would be for the Taliban for protecting al Zawahri.

Graham asked Wray on Thursday if he was worried about an attack on the United States emanating from Afghanistan.

“So, we are,” Wray said, adding: “Especially now that we’re out, I’m worried about the potential loss of sources and collection over there, so we’re going to have growing intelligence gaps, and I’m worried about the possibility that we will see al Qaeda reconstitute, that ISIS-K potentially taking advantage of the deteriorating security environment, and I’m worried about terrorists including here in the United States being inspired by what they see over there.”

Wray said the al Zawahri strike "reinforces the threat of foreign terrorist organizations like al Qaeda attempting to reconstitute in Afghanistan.”

Al Zawahri took over the terrorist group after Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. special forces raid while hiding out in Pakistan in 2011. Al Zawahri and bin Laden both pledged allegiance to top Taliban leaders.

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ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, was responsible for the August 2021 suicide bombing at the Kabul airport, which killed 13 U.S. service members and dozens of others. The Taliban, including Haqqani forces, were providing security outside the airport when the bomber got through.

Ayman al Zawahiri National Security al Qaeda Taliban Afghanistan News Foreign Policy

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Opinion | Kristof: Russia traffics in Ukrainian children

BALAKLIYA, Ukraine — The children left this town in August for a free summer camp sponsored by the Russian occupiers, enticed by assurances of gifts and of safety from constant shelling.

“The Russians promised it would be two or three weeks, and then the children would be back,” Nadia Borysenko, 29, told me. Her 12-year-old daughter, Daria, was among 25 children from this town in northeastern Ukraine who boarded a bus to the camp.

Russia did not return them, however. Daria and other children are now across the border in Russia, and Moscow is making it very difficult for families to recover their children.

The youngsters here are among many thousands of Ukrainian children whom Russia has taken from Ukraine and in some cases put up for adoption.

The Ukrainian government count is 11,461 children known by name and taken without families to Russia or Russian-controlled areas. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the Group of 20 summit that there are “tens of thousands” more who are known about only indirectly or with less detail.

“Among them are many whose parents were killed by Russian strikes, and now they are being held in the state that murdered them,” he said.

The transfer of thousands of children is a stark reminder that this is not a typical armed conflict. These may be war crimes. They should be a wake-up call to Americans and Europeans fatigued by support for Ukraine.

Do you really want to boost a state sponsor of child trafficking?

Russia doesn’t hide the transfer of Ukrainian children but trumpets it on its television propaganda programs, portraying itself as the savior of abandoned children and showing Russians handing teddy bears to Ukrainian boys and girls.

Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, boasted last month that she had adopted a Ukrainian boy, and many of these stolen children seem to have been adopted into Russian families.

That is not charity; it may be genocide. A 1948 international treaty specifies that “forcibly transferring children,” when intended to destroy a nationality, constitutes genocide.

Yet the situation is also nuanced. I reached Daria on her cellphone, and she didn’t sound like a traditional prisoner: She has friends, takes classes and can use her phone each evening to call her mom. But she unmistakably wants to go home to Ukraine.

“I miss home all the time,” she said.

Russian authorities allow parents to pick up their kids, but only by traveling to Russia through Poland and then other countries. That means that parents have to scramble to obtain passports and other documents — even as their homes and possessions may have been destroyed by Russian shells — and then take on a substantial expense just as the war has impoverished them. Some parents have managed to do this; most haven’t.

“Of course it’s a war crime when they take our children,” said Dementiev Mykola, a local prosecutor. “And they commit a crime by not making it easy for those children to come back.”

Mykola noted that the summer camp was attractive because it seemed the only way to keep kids safe from Russian shelling. He added that if the Russians wanted to, they could establish humanitarian corridors to repatriate children.

Another mother in Balakliya, Nadia Borysenko’s sister-in-law, Viktoria Borysenko, whose 12-year-old son, Bohdan, is at the camp, said he told her in phone calls that he and others are treated well but want to return. “They are crying and want to come home,” she said.

My best guess is that Russia takes the children to serve as props in its television propaganda shows. And afterward it doesn’t bother to return the props.

Many of the children taken to Russia were removed from institutions such as children’s homes, boarding schools and hospitals. Some of these youngsters didn’t have parents, but when they did, families were apparently not consulted.

Olena Matvienko told me that her 10-year-old grandson, Illya Matvienko, was in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol with his mother, Natalya, when both were badly injured by shrapnel. She died in front of Illya, and Russian troops took the boy not to a local hospital but to one in an enclave that Russian-backed separatists have declared the Donetsk People’s Republic.

The family had no idea what had happened to mother and son until a relative in Russia chanced to see a report on Russian television about heroic doctors in Donetsk saving Illya.

“He was kidnapped,” Matvienko told me. “He was taken forcibly.” She said that Russian authorities prepared papers so that Illya could be adopted in Russia.

To recover her grandson, Matvienko traveled through Poland and Turkey to Russia.

“It was just an accident that this video was seen and reached our family,” she said. “He would have been a Russian boy, and he would have grown up in another family.”

Children are not spoils of war. A government should not traffic in thousands of children. These elementary propositions underscore the moral stakes of the war in Ukraine, and it’s important for the world to stand firmly on the side of right — and to bring Daria home to her mom.

Nicholas Kristof is a New York Times columnist.

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