Haqqani network founder dies in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The founder of Afghanistan’s much-feared Haqqani network, a former U.S. ally turned fierce enemy, has died after years of ill health, a Taliban spokesman said Tuesday. Jalaluddin Haqqani was 71.

Haqqani died Monday inside Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahed told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. The elderly founder of the outlawed Afghanistan-based organization, once hailed as a freedom fighter by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, had been paralyzed for the past 10 years.

In announcing his death Tuesday, Mujahed called Haqqani a religious scholar and exemplary warrior.

Because of his infirmity, Haqqani’s network has been led by his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is also deputy head of the Taliban. Considered the most formidable of the Taliban’s fighting forces, the Haqqani network has been linked to some of the more audacious attacks in Afghanistan. The elder Haqqani joined the Taliban when they overran Kabul in September 1996, expelling feuding mujahedeen groups, whose battles left the capital in ruins.

Since then, the network has been among the fiercest foes fighting U.S. and NATO troops in Afghan­istan.

The elder Haqqani’s death is not expected to impact the network’s military might or strategy.

Haqqani was among the Afghan mujahedeen, or holy warriors, the United States backed in the 1980s to fight the former Soviet Union’s invading army, sent to Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up the pro-Moscow government. Haqqani was praised by the late U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson as “goodness personified.” After 10 years, Moscow negotiated an exit from Afghanistan in an agreement that eventually led to the collapse of Kabul’s communist government and a takeover by the mujahedeen.