Michael Semple
Taliban expert Michael Semple was smeared as an Isis kingpin by Russian mediaReuters

An Irish academic has described his bewilderment at being smeared as an Isis recruiter by Russian media.

On 19 January Russian tabloid LifeNews and broadsheet Izvestia reported that a Briton identified as Michael Semple was wanted on suspicion of belonging to an Isis cell in Pakistan and responsible for sending militants to countries including Russia.

The report describes the man as an English doctor, and cites security services and interior ministry sources claiming that he was responsible for sending 16 militants equipped with 200-500g of explosives into the country.

Renown Taliban expert Michael Semple lived in Afghanistan and Pakistan for 25 years, and served as the deputy to the European Union special representative for Afghanistan until 2007, when he was expelled for negotiating with Taliban factions.

"I've decided to consider it funny and could almost put it on my CV", Semple, who currently teaches at Belfast Queen's University's Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, told IBTimes UK.

"Reading by the letter, of course, it's not me, as there are lots of things that are not me," said Semple, who is Irish and does not hold a PhD or medical qualification. "But I'm sure there is no other Michael Semple associated with Pakistan and the region and Islamist groups. So it is intended to be me."

During his time in Aghanistan, Semple was described by the BBC as a man "who could have stepped out of 19th-century colonial Afghanistan."

The bearded speaker of the local Dari dialect would wear local clothes and is well known as one of the world's leading experts on the region. "His 18 years of living and working in Afghanistan brought him many friends, and no doubt many enemies", wrote the BBC's Kabul correspondent Alastair Leithead.

During his time in Afghanistan, Semple negotiated with elements linked to the Taliban in an effort to incorporate them into the country's peace and reconciliation process. He was expelled with a British political affairs expert by the government of the then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai for involvement in "unauthorised activities".

In recent years the Russian government has built ties with the Karzai faction as it seeks to extend its influence in Afghanistan, following the withdrawal of Nato forces from the country in 2014.

For Semple though, the smear has less to do with the new "great game" being played out by superpowers for influence in Afghanistan, and more to do with Russian media compiling a crude "shorlist around the world" of western political and diplomatic figures for smear campaigns as relations with Western powers deteriorate to their worst point since the Cold War.

"It's for consumption inside Russia. There is one intended outside effect and there is one intended inside effect. They like to put around the notion that security problems in Russia are fomented from outside," said Semple.

"It spreads the word that meddling foreigners, particularly perfidious Albion, are responsible for problems with security and terrorism."

He insists that he always had good relations with Zamir Kabulov, the Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan until 2009, during his time there, and the pair would meet to discuss political and security issues.

"It is a contribution to the atmospherics – nasty foreigners are creating problems with us. I have no problems with the Russians and have never have.

"I'm always speaking on, writing on and doing interviews on the armed [Islamist] groups. I am not encouraging anyone to join them.

"You have to think of the poor people who are given this stuff to write and told 'produce something'."

A Home Office spokesman confirmed to IBTimes UK that there is no outstanding arrest warrant for a Briton named Michael Semple on suspicion of terrorism offences.