Coalition forces take prisoners in Afghanistan
Thursday April 25, 1:23 PM
Coalition forces have taken more prisoners and uncovered weapons in Afghanistan as they hunt for al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists, a US army spokesman said Thursday.
"Yesterday we detained five individuals in eastern Afghanistan," said US army spokesman Major Bryan Hilferty on Thursday, without elaborating.
"We also discovered another weapons cache with tens of 107mm rockets."
He said the weapons were also found in eastern Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden's alleged terrorist forces are said to be mingling with local communities and slipping back and forth from Pakistan.
The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing senior Islamabad officials, that US advisers have been granted permission to accompany Pakistani troops into tribal areas of Pakistan to search for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters.
It said the advisers were expected to operate in an area governed by Pashtun tribal law near the Afghan border.
The report has not been confirmed and Pakistan has consistently denied any active hand of US troops on Pakistani soil.
Thursday April 25, 7:20 PM
Russia's top security agency said notorious Chechen warlord Khattab had been killed in a special undercover operation by Russian forces last month.
FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich told the Interfax news agency Thursday that the security service would soon provide "documentary proof" of the death of Khattab, who is of Jordanian or Saudi origin.
An FSB officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said the successful operation to assassinate the notorious guerrilla commander in Chechnya had been carried out in March.
Interfax reported that FSB sources had first informed it in mid-April of Khattab's death during a "undercover military" operation by the special forces.
"We can speak about this with a great degree of certainty because for the last two months there has been no trace of Khattab," said the FSB officer who said he did not take part in the operation.
"We have not heard him on radio communications and rebel activities in the area under Khattab's control have not been coordinated. It is likely that our intelligence services will confirm the fact of his killing," the officer added.
Mystery and myths surround Khattab, whose age is variously given as 33 or 36, and is a close associate of top Chechen rebel commander Shamil Basayev.
He is said to have waged a holy war against Russia for 15 years, first in Afghanistan then in Tajikistan and to have also supported Muslims in Azerbaijan during the conflict in Nagorny-Karabakh.
Russia says he arrived in Chechnya during the first Chechen war from 1994-96 and in August 1999 led armed incursions into the Russian republic of Dagestan.
Pak PoWs from Afghanistan arrive today
By Aslam Khan
ISLAMABAD: In a major operation, a Pakistan military transport plane will fly to Kabul on Thursday morning to pick up a group of Pakistanis, held in various Afghan jails and freed by the Afghan government, and fly them home to unite them with their families.
Top officials of the Foreign Office revealed to The News on Wednesday that a C-130 Hercules plane will fly from Islamabad at 9 am Thursday for Kabul where Pakistani officials will be handed over the Pakistani prisoners.
"The officials of the Afghan Interim Government will hand over the first batch of 30 Pakistanis who will be flown back to Peshawar," a high-raking official of the Foreign Office said, requesting that he not be named.
He also revealed that Afghan authorities have already handed about 100 Pakistani prisoners to Pakistan at the Torkham post in recent days who are being screened for their true identities. The Foreign Office official told The News that PTV would air comments of several of the 30 airlifted Pakistanis during Khabarnama at 9 pm Thursday. But before that, the group will be handed over to the security agencies in Peshawar where they will be screened and their identities cross checked before being united with their families.
"President Pervez Musharraf has treated this matter as a humanitarian issue and the freedom of the Pakistanis has been made possible because he raised the issue with Chairman Afghan Interim Administration Hamid Karzai in Kabul earlier this month," the Foreign Office official said. "We are extremely grateful to Chairman Karzai for his cooperation in freeing the Pakistanis," he said.
"The repatriation of Pakistani prisoners will continue through airlifts and land routes until we have secured the last of our citizens in Afghanistan," he added. Thousands of Pakistanis had crossed over into Afghanistan in the aftermath of the US-led coalition attacks on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in November last year.
A large number of them came from Malakand Agency bordering Afghanistan and were mostly followers of the Tanzim-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, which has since been banned by the
government. A large number of them remain missing, months after the demise of the Taliban and the end of most of the fighting in Afghanistan.
TNSM leader Sufi Mohammed and some of his close aides were last week sentenced to jail terms for organising armed groups to fight along side the Taliban and illegally crossing the international border.
Sources say that in the post-9/11 scenario, pro-Taliban sympathies persisted in Pakistan, prompting many to sneak into Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. They say that while some were battle-hardened militants, many were volunteers and ordinary people and are still languishing in prisons across north Afghanistan.
A delegation of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan went to Kabul in January to discover the fate of some 1,000 Pakistani prisoners. Sources say the Afghanistan government, the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US-led coalition forces are currently screening thousands of prisoners including Arabs, Afghans and Pakistanis, therefore delaying their release.
The sources say that professional terrorists and Al-Qaeda associates will face trials but those found not found guilty of heinous crimes, which includes most Pakistanis in Afghanistan. Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai held out a similar assurance at a press conference in Kabul in the presence of President Musharraf on his first-ever visit to Afghanistan.
By Kim Sengupta in Shomali, Afghanistan
25 April 2002
They descended in waves, engulfing us in the Jeeps and vans, knocking on the windows, and demanding the food piled on the trucks. Twitchy American airborne troops used their Colt M4 carbines to try to push the crowd back along the dusty track. When the convoy was forced to stop, the supplies were unloaded on the roadside. The crowd was struggling for the food as we drove away.
Thus ended the US military's distribution of provisions to the refugee camps pitting the Shomali Plain. A few miles from the Bagram headquarters, the focal point of an American and British campaign that costs $1bn (£690m) a month, thousands of Afghans are living in appalling poverty, misled and abandoned, they say, by aid agencies, Western donors and their government.
The refugees, or internally displaced persons as the agencies call them, had returned to their villages from their shelters in Kabul and the Panjshir Valley, and Pakistan, where at least they were given some aid. They were promised that their homes, destroyed by the Taliban, were being rebuilt.
Instead, while the Bagram air base hums with continuous construction, the Afghan destitute, many of them elderly and infants, have been living in tents supplied by the UNHCR for the past three months, next to their shattered homes that show no sign of rebuilding.
Villagers say the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) gave them the tents, two days' food, some coal for the winter, and went away. The refugees live seven or eight to a tent, with no regular income. About a hundred families return every week to join them.
The land here is a dull-brown dust-bowl, mile after mile of flat aridity littered with shells of burnt farmhouses, twisted skeletons of tanks and armoured cars and hundreds of lurking mines. The Shomali, north of Kabul, was destroyed on the orders of Mullah Mohammed Omar and Osama bin Laden, in a scorched-earth policy as Northern Alliance forces under Ahmed Shah Masood advanced on the capital.
Before this man-made disaster, the plain was the garden of Afghanistan, a verdant land of roses, vineyards and orange groves, orchards of apples and walnuts in abundance, crossed by streams and cushioned from the cold winds of the Hindu Kush by a range of hills. Businessmen would come from Kabul and Kandahar, Iran and India, to buy crops for export to Europe and America.
Today, the American food runs are a help, but, as the US Army's Civil Affairs Battalion admits, they are temporary measures that will end when the main bulk of US forces moves out of Bagram. Yet only a few of the camps are given food. So those left out scramble for scarce supplies, which led to the last leg of our trip having to be abandoned. The refugees say they are grateful for the food, although they are bewildered by the esoteric mix the soldiers bring.
At the village of Rabat Chohakher, seven miles from Bagram, 300 people are encamped next to their burnt village. Abdul Rahim, the 80-year-old headman, looked at the packets of Quickstart chilli mix, Milan cheddar cheese sauce, and Hawaiian Gold pineapple chunks, Tops tabasco sauce, and said: "These are not the kinds of things we are used to eating.
"But we are very thankful. We really have very little to eat otherwise, and it is especially hard on the children. We don't know what we will do when this stops. Some of the young men work as labourers, but there isn't much work around. The Americans and British have all these men making buildings in Bagram, so why don't they come and rebuild our homes?"
Mr Rahim said he had brought his and other families back from the Panjshir Valley after being told the village was being rebuilt and they would get aid. His 13-year-old grandson, Ajmal, and a few of the younger men have begun to try to replenish the withered vineyards and the dried-up apricot and apple orchards, despite the distinct possibility that some of the land is still mined.
"But we have received nothing from the UN, no food, no money," Mr Rahim said. "My son died fighting the Russians, then the Taliban destroyed the irrigation system and set fire to our homes. We are trying to make things grow again. But this will take years."
At the next camp, Akekhil Qurabagh, the tale was much the same. The people had been living in the 24-building Russian embassy complex in Kabul, refugees from Taliban destruction. The Russians wanted their embassy back, and the interim government of Hamid Karzai and the aid agencies have begun to clear it.
Hukum Jan, 50, said: "We were told by the agencies, the UN and IOM, that if we leave the embassy we will get help. But no help has come. They are spending so much money on the war, why don't they spend some of it on the poor people?"
Akbar Nasirullah, once Mr Jan's neighbour, added: "We used to live like kings in the Shomali. Now we are beggars, and, like beggars, we are being ignored."
Friday, 26 April, 2002, 08:32 GMT 09:32 UK
At least 12 women and children have been killed and more than 20 injured in a suspected bomb attack during a religious ceremony at a Shia mosque in central Pakistan.
The impact was so powerful, at least two of the bodies have been blown into pieces
Authorities said an explosion tore through the mosque in the western town of Bhakkar, in Punjab province, just before midnight.
They said it was not clear whether an explosive device had been planted inside the women's enclosure of the mosque or thrown in from outside, where thousands had gathered for the annual ceremony.
Of the injured, 13 were still in hospital while others had been allowed to go home after being treated for shock.
Police suspect the attack is part of the long-running sectarian conflict between extremists groups of the majority Sunni and minority Shia communities.
A doctor at the local government hospital told the BBC the blast hit almost everyone in the women's enclosure.
Authorities are struggling to clamp down on extremism
"The impact was so powerful, at least two of the bodies have been blown into pieces," he said.
The latest incident is the most serious since an attack on a Shia mosque in the city of Rawalpindi earlier this year.
The BBC's Zaffar Abbas in Lahore says this is also the first time that women and children have specifically been targeted, adding a new and more alarming dimension to the conflict.
The mayor of Bhakkar town, Khalid Hanif, described the latest attack as an act of terrorism, which, he said was aimed at creating unrest and sectarian friction.
Security has been tightened all over the town and police are patrolling sensitive areas.
Violence between the Sunni and Shia communities has claimed hundreds of lives across the country in recent years.
President Pervez Musharraf pledged tougher action against sectarian extremism in January as part of a broader crackdown on Islamic militants.
He banned five Islamic groups including at least one hardline Sunni organisation traditionally blamed for sectarian attacks.
Since then, more than 30 Shia Muslims have been killed in incidents that had an obvious sectarian dimension.
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 25, 2002; Page A19
KABUL, Afghanistan, April 24 -- Investigators have concluded that the killing of an Afghan cabinet minister at the airport here in February was not part of a vendetta or political plot to destabilize the country's fragile interim government, as originally feared, according to senior officials.
Instead, they said, the probe determined that Abdul Rahman, the minister of civil aviation and tourism, was killed by a mob of religious pilgrims who had been stranded at the Kabul airport for two cold days without flights to Saudi Arabia.
"I can tell you 100 percent that it was a spontaneous action because there was no reason for the case to be political," Yar Mohammed Tamkin, the deputy attorney general overseeing the investigation, said in an interview.
The findings could clear up some of the confusion surrounding the case and provide a measure of reassurance for an Afghan government anxious about perceived threats from every direction. The day after Rahman's killing, interim leader Hamid Karzai called it an assassination by a conspiracy of senior government officials with "personal hostility and hatred" against the victim. Several incidents since have appeared to be targeted at the government's stability, from an assassination attempt against the defense minister to an alleged plan to bomb the capital.
Yet the conclusions revealed after two months of investigation into Rahman's death left unanswered why Karzai had accused the high-ranking officials, who included the country's deputy intelligence chief and senior military and justice officers. In their first interview since being arrested in February, the suspected officials said they were set up by rivals within the government who fed disinformation to Karzai.
"There was some competition among people at that time," said Abdul Alim, who was the government's chief investigator when he was arrested. "Therefore, there's no doubt that those people who made the false reports are our enemies. There's no doubt."
Neither Alim nor the others arrested would identify who they thought had fingered them, but stressed that they had no animosity toward Rahman, a fellow ethnic Tajik who fought with them in the war against the Soviet Union and later in the resistance to the Taliban.
"I was one of the closest people to Dr. Abdul Rahman -- you can ask anybody," said Abdullah Jan Tawhidi, the former second-ranking official at the intelligence department. "During the jihad [against the Soviets] and after that, he was one of my personal friends."
Tawhidi, Alim and Qalander Beg, a top military officer, were among hundreds of pilgrims at Kabul airport on Feb. 14, all heading to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage to Mecca known as the hajj. They said they were already aboard a charter plane plane by the time the hajjis, as the pilgrims are called, attacked the aviation minister because promised planes had yet to arrive. The three were brought back from Saudi Arabia after Karzai accused them.
They remain in custody pending the official end of the investigation, spending their days in a comfortable security department office building in central Kabul, sipping tea and visiting with their investigator.
Karzai's spokesman, Yusuf Nuristani, said he did not know why the Afghan leader came to believe there was more to Rahman's killing than the outrage of the hajjis. "Karzai thought there was a conspiracy," Nuristani said. "After that, I hadn't heard where the investigation lies."
But Tamkin, the deputy attorney general, said Karzai has monitored the investigation closely. The attorney general reports directly to Karzai.
Tamkin said the investigation would officially conclude within the next week or two, with the results forwarded to a court.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
Wednesday, April 24, 2002; Page A26
By Walter Pincus
Osama bin Laden's failure to appear on video or audio tapes recorded since December may indicate the al Qaeda leader is dead, sick or on the run, but senior intelligence analysts yesterday suggested it also could be part of a strategy to make his reappearance more dramatic when timed to another terrorist attack.
"The impact would be all the greater when he waits," one senior intelligence analyst said. "He may be waiting for an attack to occur, but at this moment we just don't know. It is just a guess."
December was the last time the al Qaeda leader appeared to have been recorded on a videotape, which was sent to al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language television network, and broadcast on Dec. 26. On that tape, which was unprofessionally lit and taped before a canvas that hid the location, bin Laden appeared paler than in past appearances and noticeably kept his left arm hanging by his side, indicating to some that he may have been wounded or was ill. He criticized the heavy U.S. bombing in Afghanistan underway at the time, which he said would leave "millions . . . of men, women and children homeless during the cold winter months."
Three tapes released in the past week, including one that aired Monday, include images of bin Laden that U.S. intelligence analysts agree were made before December, according to one senior administration official. The most recent tape, disclosed by Associated Press Television News, reportedly came from someone who found it in December in a home in Kabul, the Afghan capital, that was once used by al Qaeda and Taliban supporters. The most recent tape runs almost 60 minutes and shows bin Laden advocating holy war against the West.
The arrival of the tapes, however, has raised the question of why the al Qaeda leader has not made a recent appearance on tape.
Lacking solid evidence that bin Laden is dead, "we believe he is alive and moving with his retinue between Afghanistan or Pakistan, most likely Afghanistan," another senior administration official said yesterday.
The official said that intelligence analysts believe the tapes were released "in an effort to boost morale among his [bin Laden's] followers and to capitalize on the Palestine-Israeli crisis." The videotapes, however, have provided "little intelligence value and no insight on his recent or past whereabouts," the official said.
The intelligence community is also weighing other possible reasons -- besides waiting for a more dramatic moment -- why bin Laden has failed to make and distribute a new videotape.
"Whoever shot the earlier [videotape] may be unavailable or dead, and they don't want to go outside his trusted circle," the analyst said.
Use of an audiotape, which would be much simpler than video to produce, may have been ruled out because "the popular impact would not be as great without his face," the analyst said. He added that there would always be doubt about the authenticity of just a voice, particularly one speaking Arabic.
Before and immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, bin Laden made videotapes that used professional lighting and production values, indicating he had people in his immediate group who understood their value for propaganda and recruiting.
Last Thursday, two different versions of what appear to be the same documentary appeared on al-Jazeera and on Middle East Broadcast Corp., a Saudi-owned channel. They both appeared to be a collection of previously recorded segments with a documentary narration that included references to the summit of Arab leaders held earlier this month in Beirut.
The production values were not as good as earlier bin Laden tapes, but analysts believe the tapes originated with al Qaeda personnel because a brief scene featuring bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, his top aide, "had not been seen before," one analyst said.
Those segments, which showed the two men sitting by a stream with grass in the background, were clearly recorded after the Sept. 11 attacks, because Zawahiri pays tribute briefly to the hijackers, saying: "The 19 who went out and struggled and sacrificed their lives for the sake of God, for God Almighty has blessed them with this victory that we are enjoying now."
"It was done in late September or October," one analyst said, noting "the background looked real and it is hard to find green grass [in that area] now or in the recent past." Another senior official said, however, that in one part of the bin Laden-Zawahiri segment, "the stream is not moving, which means it is a fake background."
Another reason for believing the tapes were made by al Qaeda personnel is that the segments also include a martyrdom message by one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, encouraging others to join the jihad, or holy war, against the United States. Though shot in a slightly different style, the message was similar to tapes made of other potential suicide terrorists that were found by U.S. forces in the former residence of deceased al Qaeda military commander Muhammad Atef near Kabul.
The hijacker's message, while similar to the other messages, was "different in more important ways," which a senior administration official would not describe.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
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