Abdallah Azzam: the man who democratised jihad in Afghanistan

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With the Taliban in control after the dramatic fall of Kabul, signalling the defeat of the United States after a 20-year war, the eyes of the world are now on Afghanistan. Mediapart looks back at the recent history of the country and in particular how its arid Hindu Kush mountain range became the birthplace of global jihad. As Jean-Pierre Perrin reports in the first of a series of articles, it all began with the arrival of the Palestinian preacher Abdallah Azzam in Peshawar, Pakistan, at the start of the 1980s.

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Michel A. was one of the first French volunteers, indeed possibly the first, to go and fight against the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan. In November 1985 when we met him he had just arrived in Miranshah, the small capital of North Waziristan, one of the seven tribal agencies or districts in north-west Pakistan close to the well-known Durand Line that separates that country from Afghanistan. He already had a Kalashnikov assault rifle slung over over his shoulder though admitted he did not know how to use it.