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Algerian who fought beside bin Laden: ‘I wanted to help Muslims’ | Osama bin Laden

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London, United Kingdom – Abdullah Anas sits upright, smiling and speaking clearly as he recalls his decision to join the “Afghan Arabs” during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-1989).  

“I didn’t even know where Afghanistan was on the map,” he says. “I was a country boy from Algeria, all I knew is I wanted to help Muslims.” 

For 10 years, Anas was one of the many Arabs who fought against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, alongside the future icons of al-Qaeda’s global war, including the late Abdullah Azzam, Anas’s father-in-law, and Osama bin Laden. 

Anas later turned away from their movements, disagreeing with their political interpretations and plans for what they called a “global jihad”. He now lives in London, where he was granted political asylum.

Osama was shy, introverted and spoke very little – a man of few words. He talked when he needed to and chose his words carefully.

Abdullah Anas, author and former fighter

In his new memoir, To the Mountains: My life in Jihad from Algeria to Afghanistan, written with investigative journalist Tam Hussein, Anas traces the rise of this so-called “global jihadism”, beginning with the networks formed during the Soviet-Afghan War.

Anas and Hussein spoke to Al Jazeera about the evolution of this fight and its role in the modern world.  

Al Jazeera: Why did you decide to write this book? 

Abdullah Anas: I want to challenge the myths and misconceptions around the Afghan jihad.  

With my experience, I feel that it’s my responsibility to help anyone – laymen, imams, journalists, academics, politicians – understand the history of the Afghan jihad because it is misunderstood on all levels all over the world. Many people, especially the younger generation, believe jihad started with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in 9/11. This is not true. 

I wrote to counter the false narratives that came about after 9/11, which depicted Afghanistan as the training ground for extremists.  

After 2001, so-called experts cropped up claiming that thousands of foreign extremists had trained in camps in Afghanistan and were returning home to commit terrorism. In reality, there were about 100 Arab Afghans, committed fighters, at any one time. 

Al Jazeera: What do you consider “jihad”? 

Anas: Jihad essentially means “a morally just war”. It’s Islam’s martial tradition, with a moral and ethical framework.  

It’s important to draw a distinction between jihadism – a modern concept that came about after 9/11 – and the original concept of jihad.  

The only legitimate jihad was during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when people fought against colonialism and showed immense moral courage. Everything that came after this, including the civil war in Peshawar and 9/11, was not jihad. 

Al-Qaeda and ISIS, Boko Haram and other bloody organisations have destroyed this noble concept by committing countless horrific crimes and calling it jihad. I challenge any man to see what good has ever come from al-Qaeda. 

Muslims are outraged by these groups that have distorted one of their most sacred concepts, and they are upset by the public’s lack of understanding about jihad. So many people are understandably fearful, and the media hardly helps, only seeing jihad alongside criminals.  

Al Jazeera: Osama bin Laden was one of the first people you met in Afghanistan. What was he like? 

Anas: I first met Osama in Islamabad in 1983, he was 26. He travelled from Jeddah to Islamabad just for the day to visit Sheikh Abdullah [Azzam] and drop off donations.

Osama was shy, introverted and spoke very little – a man of few words. He talked when he needed to and chose his words carefully. It was clear he was someone who was used to being in control. I could tell he came from a family with high manners. I liked him.  

We met again a year later in Peshawar at Abdullah Azzam’s house, who at that time, was a star in the Muslim world. 

Osama was like his personal assistant, his host, driver and student. When Azzam stood up, Osama stood up, when Azzam sat down, Osama also sat down. He was completely under the order of Azzam, waiting for any advice, teaching and instructions. It’s not like Osama was poor and needed the work, he came from a wealthy family. He saw in Azzam a mentor. 

By late 1988, after about four years of working with us, he started to distance himself from us as he began to come under the influence of more radical groups.  

Al Jazeera: How would you characterise the roots of “global jihadism”? 

Tam Hussein: The roots of global jihadism are not in Arab culture. They partly stem from an idea of the Afghan jihad, that has been distorted by political convulsions experienced throughout the Arab world in recent times.  

The Afghan-Soviet war is a significant symbol in the Arab world because it marks a successful holy war against a foreign aggressor. Although jihad ended when the Soviets left in 1989 and Kabul fell in 1992, by the late 1990s and throughout the noughties, terrorist networks claimed their geneses from Afghanistan. In the noughties, one of the very first videos to go viral amongst jihadists was the beheading of a Russian soldier in Chechnya. This was loaded to jihadi websites and forums, which appropriated Afghan jihad symbols and conflated them with something they were not: global jihad.  

I have encountered this conflation time and time again while working as a journalist in Syria, and covering major terror attacks in Europe. 

For example, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian-Moroccan who joined the Syrian battalion and organised the 2015 Paris attacks, tried to emulate the Arab Afghans. He believed they had expelled the Russians from Afghanistan and established Islam, before the West and their allies destabilised the region with democracy. So, when Abaaoud saw Syrians calling for the same [democracy], he dragged their heads along the ground and denounced them as infidels.

Many others have gone to Syria, thinking they were taking part in a divinely sanctioned jihad when they were actually taking part in a grubby civil war between Islamist factions. 

Al Jazeera: What attracts people to join “jihadism”? 

Hussein: There are many complex reasons for this. A lot of people believe in the foundational myths of al-Qaeda that are historically inaccurate. Some people are intellectually immature, from broken families, they lack the education and the necessary critical tools let alone able to distinguish between sophistry and rhetoric.  

This is having disastrous consequences.  

If Abaaoud had understood the history of Afghan jihad, he might have been more critical of the demagogues and ideologues that peddled these myths. But he didn’t, and so he and his friends fell under the influence of texts, like biographies of Osama bin Laden, and YouTube lectures delivered by demagogues from Walthamstow, that have no academic or religious authority.

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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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