Masood is alive: Afghan opposition
KABUL, Sept 11 (AFP) - Afghanistan's opposition was adamant Tuesday that commander Ahmad Shah Masood was alive despite reports of his death following a suicide bombing by Arab extremists linked to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.
An official statement said Masood had been moved to a hospital in neighbouring Tajikistan, a short helicopter trip north of his office in Khwaja Bahauddin where the attack took place Sunday.
The statement issued on the website of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, ousted from Kabul by the Taliban militia in 1996 but still recognised by the United Nations, said Masood had "escaped serious injury".
"The (assassination) effort showed signs of careful planning and high-level technical and logistic support that implicate Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence service and Arab militant Osama bin Laden, the Taliban militia's primary foreign patrons," it said.
The Taliban took advantage of the confusion within the opposition's ranks and launched a major attack Tuesday on the frontlines 25 kilometresmiles) north of Kabul.
Masood spokesman Mohammad Habeel said they made little headway in their push along the Old Shomali Road toward the Parwan provincial capital Charikar.
"They want to exploit the atmosphere and advance but they faced resistance," Habeel told AFP from Masood's stronghold in the nearby Panjshir valley. "They were able to capture a few posts but lost them in our counter-attack."
Reports from Washington and Moscow on Monday said the opposition commander had died but Habeel insisted these were false.
"I strongly reject these reports. I went to him yesterday afternoon with Professor Rabbani. He has sustained injuries," Habeel said, referring to the ousted president of the Islamic State, Burhanuddin Rabbani.
"His face and head were burned in the explosion but he was able to speak. He said he was OK," he said, adding that Masood was wounded most seriously in the leg and hands.
Habeel also denied that Masood had been moved to Tajikistan, where medical facilities are far better than in opposition-controlled areas of northern Afghanistan.
"He survived the bomb but has been unconscious for one and a half days," said Masood's brother Ahmed Wali Masood, who runs the Afghan embassy in Britain.
"He opened his eyes at 1900 local time (1430 GMT). Doctors are very optimistic."
Sources in Washington and Moscow said the opposition commander had died in the attack, which killed the two Arab bombers as well as one of Masood's aides.
The Arabs, who were posing as journalists, had visited Pakistan and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan before crossing to the opposition territory by road and interviewing Rabbani among others, opposition sources said.
A US official on Monday said Masood was believed to have been killed in the attack at his base in northeastern Takhar province, but the State Department said it could not confirm that the rebel chieftain had been assassinated.
Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency also reported that Masood had died.
"Critically wounded, Masood died while being transferred to a hospital at Dushanbe," the Tajik capital, the agency said, without revealing its sources.
Masood, a distinguished resistance commander during the war against the 1979-89 Soviet occupation, is the leader of the loose opposition alliance now fighting the Taliban.
He receives support from India, Iran and his old enemy Russia, which sees him as the last line of defence against the Taliban's radical brand of Islam spreading through Central Asia.
The Taliban is backed by Pakistan and Saudi millionaire bin Laden, a veteran of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan and an indicted terrorist in the United States.
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