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Senior Taliban leader, a US-wanted terrorist, praises suicide bombers

Sirajuddin Haqqani, who heads the feared Haqqani network and has a $10 million bounty on his head, meets with attackers’ families, calls them ‘heroes of Islam and the country’

Illustrative: Afghan security forces stand next to a crater created by a massive explosion that killed over 150, according to the Afghan president, in front of the German Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 31, 2017. The Taliban's second in command and head of the Haqqani denied Afghanistan's accusation that it was behind the bombing. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)
Illustrative: Afghan security forces stand next to a crater created by a massive explosion that killed over 150, according to the Afghan president, in front of the German Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 31, 2017. The Taliban's second in command and head of the Haqqani denied Afghanistan's accusation that it was behind the bombing. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

KABUL — One of the most senior figures in Afghanistan’s Taliban government has hailed the sacrifices of suicide bombers at a meeting with families of the “martyrs” in Kabul.

Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, listed as a terrorist by the United States with a $10 million bounty for his arrest, met the relatives on Monday at an upscale hotel in the capital.

Pro-Taliban social media accounts and local media on Tuesday published images of the minister praying and embracing men in a glitzy ballroom.

“Haqqani praised the jihad and sacrifice of the martyrs and mujahideen,” calling them the “heroes of Islam and the country,” Afghan state broadcaster RTA reported.

It said Sirajuddin “stressed that we must refrain from any betrayal of the aspirations of the martyrs,” and promised $125 and a plot of land for each family.

In January 2018, the Intercontinental Hotel, where the meeting was held, was stormed by Taliban gunmen, who opened fire on guests and staff and took dozens hostage.

Formed by Sirajuddin’s father Jalaluddin, the Haqqani network is the most feared faction of the Taliban, blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan during the last two decades.

Thanks to their financial and military strength — and a reputation for ruthlessness — the network is considered semi-autonomous while remaining within the Taliban fold.

Suicide bomb attacks, or martyrdom operations, as the Taliban called them, were a tactic first employed by the group in the early years of their insurgency against the former US-backed government, with military and NATO convoys often targets.

The Taliban are now battling against the Islamic State-Khorasan, the Afghan branch of the Islamic State militant group, which has carried out a string of devastating suicide bomb attacks in Afghanistan in recent weeks.

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