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A lone gunman is spotted in the no-man’s land between Serbia and Hungary, near the European Union nation’s heavily guarded eastern frontier.
Hooded and masked, he aims an assault rifle at the CCTV cameras that have monitored his breach of the metres high, razor-wire topped border fence separating the two countries.
Behind him, dozens of undocumented, illegal migrants prepare to follow, their sights set on breaking into the bloc beyond.
In their way stand Hungarian border guards, determined to prevent yet another breach at what has become a weak link in the EU’s external frontiers.
The gunman, Hungarian authorities say, is part of a Taliban takeover of people smuggling operations led by the Haqqani terror network amid a violent turf war on the most active route into the bloc.
György Bakondi, Hungary’s national security adviser, said he had shared intelligence reports with Nato that prove the Afghan secret service was attempting to exploit Europe’s mounting migration crisis.
Critics have claimed the Hungarian government has used its intelligence services to push its anti-migration agenda.
The authorities took a number of journalists including the Telegraph to the border amid warnings from mainstream leaders on the continent that the war between Israel and Hamas is raising the risk of Islamic terror being exported to Europe.
Every day, some 1,400 attempted crossings are detected by border guards along Hungary’s 110 miles of fencing, which stands four metres high and is topped with coils of razor wire, along its frontier with Serbia.
More than 300,000 enter the EU’s Schengen free-travel zone via the frontier each year, according to Hungarian officials, who say the guards are able to turn fewer than 175,000 back towards the Western Balkans.
It is now considered to be the second busiest migration route to Western Europe, behind crossings via the Mediterranean Sea.
The frontier was exploited by Salah Abdeslam, the leader of the terror cell behind the Paris and Brussels terror attacks, which killed 169 people in 2015 and 2016, to move between Europe and Syria.
The terrorist met two men, who later blew themselves up, two months before the attack on the French capital at Budapest’s main train station after they had arrived back in the EU having trained with Islamic State.
The route has now proved to be a lucrative business for people smugglers, who charge €1,000 for organised trips and a €300 (£240) transit toll for anyone hoping to jump the fence alone.
Those paying the full amount are organised into military-style formations of 20 and armed with marbles, slingshots and sticks to fight back against Hungarian border guards sent to stop them.
First, a ladder is thrown up against the fence on the Serbian side of the border, and a smuggler, armed with a gun, often a Glock handgun or a Kalashnikov rifle, climbs into position to guard the crossing.
Smugglers open fire
Border guard Csaba Balasz, a commanding officer, said the smugglers often fire their weapons in the air to warn off police and signal the start of the next stage of operation.
Last month, in a sign of an escalation in the violence, a vehicle belonging to a joint patrol of Hungarian and Serbian officers was directly fired at.
The migrants, two-thirds of which are from Syria and Afghanistan, typically charge over the fence under cover from the smugglers, hurling sticks, rocks and firing marbles at the guards hoping to stop them from escaping into the nearby forests.
Additional ladders to make the cross-border dash simpler are charged as an optional extra by the smuggling gangs, who slip back into Serbia as their customers reach the EU.
Those migrants rounded up by the Hungarian border police are immediately pushed back across the frontier.
One migrant had been turned around 55 times by Hungarian guards before eventually managing to successfully make it across.
First Lieutenant Balasz said Romanian, Moldovan and Ukrainian criminals round up the migrants that evade capture, taking them into Budapest so they can escape towards Britain, Germany and other countries.
One officer on patrol described the apparent service as a “migrant taxi app”, with its “customers” given coordinates to arrive at, before being taken away from the border.
When The Telegraph visited the fence in Roszke it was quiet, a scrap of black clothing caught in the razor wire bristled in the wind and a toothbrush lying in the dirt offered a glimpse of the activity the previous night.
Bruised and battered pick-up trucks are dotted along the frontier, their windows smashed and headlights missing, proof of the often-violent clashes.
At a control centre in nearby Mòrahalom, police officers monitored an array of cameras that were positioned across the entire stretch of the fortifications, while listening to Miley Cyrus on the radio.
CCTV footage from their archives featured running battles with the migrant groups skipping over the fences. On one occasion, a Hungarian border guard, wielding a riot shield, rugby tackles the ladder used by the migrants, sending a group crashing into the ground from atop the fence.
Hungary’s hardline approach to border policing is reviled by EU member states, with the European Court of Justice ruling that Hungarian attempts to send asylum seekers back to Serbia is unlawful.
In response, Mr Bakondi claims: “Due to the EU’s failed migration policy, it is now the Taliban’s secret service and the Afghan government who decide who can enter Europe.”
He said the Taliban’s Haqqani network, proscribed as a terrorist organisation by Britain, has seized control of the main smuggling route, after gun battles with rival Syrian and Moroccan operations in Serbia.
“Smuggling gangs originating from Afghanistan in Serbia have family ties to the Taliban government in Afghanistan and the Haqqani network, which is a terrorist organisation,” he said.
“The Taliban secret services are now directly controlling the activities of these Afghan-origin smuggling groups.”
The network, affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, was founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, an Afghan warlord and insurgent commander, a known associate of Osama Bin Laden.
The Haqqani network is a sprawling crime and terror group based in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has carried out some of the worst Taliban terror attacks, and is closely-allied with the Islamist organisation.
It is now run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is the Taliban’s deputy leader and Afghanistan’s security minister, and has a €10 million bounty on his head by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation.
A redacted intelligence report shared recently with Hungarian MPs highlighted “concerns about the potential use of migration routes, including the Western Balkans route passing through Hungary, by members of terrorist networks”.
Budapest refused to reveal the exact evidence it has used to justify the claim that the Taliban and Haqqani are directly involved in the smuggling operations.
Officials pointed to videos shared on the TikTok social media platform by Afghan people-trafficking groups apparently operating through Serbia.
One of them, posted by Afgcriminal313, was said to be proof of a tie to the Taliban’s elite 313 Badri Battalion, which operates in Kabul and is dominated by members of the Haqqani network. However, the battalion is not known to operate abroad and the number “313” is widely symbolic in Shia Islam.
Critics said the report, which was declassified with the help of an MP from prime minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party, could be used to shape his anti-migration policies ahead of next year’s European Parliament elections.
Intelligence services ‘used for political purposes’
The Hungarian leader recently accused the EU of “raping” his country after Brussels signed off on a plan to relocate asylum seekers around the bloc, to ease the burden on the likes of Italy and Greece, which receive the majority of illegal arrivals.
Bulcsu Hunyadi, of Budapest-based think-tank Political Capital, said: “This government has used the intelligence services several times for political reasons.
“It is obvious that the government is very concerned about what is happening on the southern border, especially as it has no control over developments in northern Serbia. This report looks much like crisis communication.”
But in a further warning, Mr Bakondi said he had shared details with Nato allies and EU governments of “a heightened risk of terrorism associated with the growing migration pressure”.
The gangs were said to be transporting migrants from Afghanistan to neighbouring Tajikistan, where they have visa-free travel to Moscow and then onwards to Serbia, where they are shipped to the EU’s borders.
As they tussle for control of the route, reports of gun battles and violence have become commonplace in towns close to the frontier.
Serbian police arrested six people in October after a shootout between two smuggling gangs in the Serbian town of Horgos, which left three people killed and one injured.
Prior to that in September, one person was injured in a gun battle in the carpark of a supermarket in Subotica, in the north of the country.