The Taliban’s Plot to Assassinate the UAE’s Ambassador Relied on an Inside Man
Afghanistan's intelligence agency reveals details of the January 2017 attack
Before anything else, Sayeed Mahboob Agha was a cook.
He had been one for nearly three decades, and for a time served dutifully to Mullah Mohammad Omar, the founder of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Agha’s most significant contribution to the jihad waged by the Taliban was to ensure that the leaders and fighters close to Mullah Omar were well fed and nourished.
That is, until Jan. 10, 2017, when he allegedly helped the militant group plant and detonate a bomb that killed 11 people, including the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Afghanistan and five other Arab diplomats in Kandahar.
The Taliban executed the attack on the Kandahar governor’s guesthouse with assistance from Agha, who had worked as a cook in the governor’s office for 11 years, according to recent findings from the National Directorate of Security, the country’s leading intelligence agency.
“It is not uncommon to hire workers who were formerly with Taliban—in fact, many government offices in several provinces still have cooks and cleaners that served under the Taliban regime,” a source inside the NDS revealed on the condition of anonymity.
Agha and several other suspects were arrested immediately after the explosion. After months of interrogation, he confessed to being a key part of the plan to attempt to assassinate Humayun Azizi, the governor of Kandahar, and Juma Mohammed Abdullah Al Kaabi, the UAE ambassador.
The governor, much to the Taliban’s disappointment, survived the explosion. Al Kaabi, along with five other diplomats from the UAE, died. The same day, two Taliban suicide bombers killed 46 people at Afghanistan’s National Assembly in Kabul.
Investigations conducted by several defense agencies inside and outside of Afghanistan, along with Agha’s confession and phone transcripts obtained by the NDS, revealed how the Taliban planned and executed the Kandahar attack.
Above and at top–UAE ambassador Juma Al Kaabi, center left and wearing a white ghutrah, and Kandahar governor Humayun Azizi, center right. Kandahar Governor’s Office photos
“After the fall of Taliban, Agha moved to Farah province and worked as a shopkeeper for a few years,” the NDS source shared. “He was coaxed into taking his old job—as a cook at the Kandahar governor’s guesthouse—by his compatriots from during the Taliban years.”
“They wanted their man on the inside.”
Agha accepted and rejoined the guesthouse as a cook, however he was reluctant to participate in any anti-government conspiracies. “For years, he worked diligently and gave no reason for suspicion; but locally, everyone knew about Agha’s ties to the Taliban,” the source admitted.
Agha told the NDS that the Taliban asked him several times in the last decade to meet with the militant group’s leaders, but he refused until recently. “He visited the Taliban leaders three times in the last one year in Quetta in Pakistan; in their last meeting they pressured him to share information and that is when he told them about then upcoming visit by the UAE ambassador,” the source confirmed.
“For his services, Agha was promised $30,000 and a luxurious house in a secure part of Pakistan,” the source added.
Agha returned to Afghanistan after being trained by two Taliban leaders whom the NDS official refused to name. “We, along with the UAE government, have formally submitted the names of the two suspects to Pakistan and give them the opportunity to act upon them,” the source explained.
Pakistan has yet to comment on the matter.
The Taliban then delivered explosives to Agha’s house in Kandahar, and he placed them under couches in the guesthouse’s meeting area ahead of the ambassador’s visit.
“Agha was given a burner phone that he used to inform the Taliban when the targeted guests arrived. The explosion took place minutes after he made that call to them,” the source said, adding that the bomb was detonated remotely.
The Taliban has vehemently denied any role in these attacks and accuse the Afghan government of conspiring against the group. The militants insisted that the government was trying to frame the Taliban in order to isolate them at the global level.
The UAE was one of only three countries that recognized Taliban-ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.
In a statement, released shortly after the NDS report, the Taliban once again dismissed any involvement in the attacks. Acknowledging the cook, but accusing him of lying, Taliban spokesperson Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi said the report was “fabricated very boldly and shamelessly”
The NDS, however, is confident that the Taliban carried out the attack with Agha’s assistance.
“We have records of telephonic conversation between the Taliban leaders congratulating each other on the success of the attack,” the source stated. “In one of the call transcripts, we even have records of a conversation between two leaders having a discussion about denying responsibility for this attack.”
Agha, meanwhile, remains in prison awaiting trial. Perhaps he might take up a position as a cook there, once again.