Millions of dollars handed over to secure the release of South Korean hostages in Afghanistan have been used to buy weapons deployed against British and American forces in the country, the Taliban claims.
According to Taliban fighters interviewed by The Sunday Telegraph, the money has also been used to train recruits to carry out terrorist attacks in Britain and America.
South Korea has repeatedly denied claims by Afghan officials that it paid cash to secure the release in August of 21 Christian volunteers who were held for nearly six weeks. But in a recent meeting, three Taliban fighters involved in the conflict with the British in Helmand province said that $10 million cash handed over in two instalments had been used to boost operations in Afghanistan and abroad.
"It was a God-sent opportunity," said Mullah Hezbollah, 30. "It has helped us to multiply our stockpile of weapons and explosives to wage battle for at least a year or so."
Their claims will fuel the controversy about the 23 South Koreans, who were seized as they travelled by bus from Kabul to Kandahar on July 19. Two of the male hostages were executed, but the rest were released after direct negotiations between the South Korean government and the Taliban. Seoul subsequently agreed to withdraw its small contingent of troops from Afghanistan and bar any more missionaries from working there, although it has denied widespread reports that a ransom was also paid.
Hezbollah, however, gave what appeared to be precise details of the transactions. "They gave us $7 million as a first instalment the day we released 12 hostages, and the remaining money was paid soon after we released the remaining hostages on August 31," he said.
He added that another main source of income was opium produced by poppy farmers in Helmand, thanks to a Taliban fatwa, or holy order. "Our scholars have given a religious decree saying that things which are usually abominable in Islam are permitted to wage jihad against the enemies of Islam," he said.
His comrade, Mullah Mohibullah, 32, disclosed that some of the ransom funds were being used to train volunteers from Britain and America to carry out attacks in their homelands. "We want to destroy them, the way they have destroyed our country," he said. "Most of these youths are suicide bombers."
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