U.S. Grand Jury Indicts Pearl Kidnapping Suspect
Justice: Charges could lead to the death penalty. But Pakistan has not promised to hand over the British-born militant.
By GREG MILLER, TIMES STAFF WRITER
WASHINGTON -- A federal grand jury Thursday indicted an Islamic militant accused of masterminding the kidnapping and slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter
Daniel Pearl, escalating the United States' push to have Pearl's alleged killers tried in this country.
Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is being held by authorities in Pakistan, was charged with hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking. Because the
alleged crimes ended in Pearl's death, those two counts could carry the death penalty.
Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft said Sheikh "led a ring of co-conspirators who carefully and methodically set a death trap for Daniel Pearl, lured him into it with lies and
savagely ended his life." Pearl was kidnapped Jan. 23 in the Arabian Sea port of Karachi and killed a short time later by captors who recorded his decapitation on
videotape. The film was delivered to U.S. authorities in Pakistan last month.
Ashcroft said the United States continues to investigate Sheikh's alleged accomplices, and he indicated that additional charges could be filed against the British-born
The Justice Department on Thursday also unsealed an earlier indictment of Sheikh that charges him with the kidnapping of an American tourist, Bela J. Nuss, in India
in 1994. Nuss was released after 11 days. If convicted on that count, Sheikh could face life in prison.
The indictments come amid delicate negotiations between Pakistan and the United States over custody of Sheikh.
Ashcroft said the indictment sends a clear signal that the United States expects to conduct its own trial of Sheikh. But he indicated that the U.S. has yet to secure an
agreement from Pakistan.
"We are signaling our clear interest in trying him on these charges," Ashcroft said. "We are collaborating with the Pakistanis and informing them of our interests, and
we expect them to be cooperative."
But Pakistani authorities said Tuesday that Sheikh will be tried there before any hand-over to U.S. authorities is considered. Prosecutors in Karachi have yet to file
charges, and earlier this week asked for more time to assemble their case.
Pakistan faces pressure from nationalist and extremist elements within the country not to comply with the U.S. request. Pakistani officials have also acknowledged
concern that Sheikh might try to sour U.S.-Pakistani relations by revealing information about militant groups' alleged ties to Pakistan's intelligence service.
In a courtroom outburst Tuesday, Sheikh threatened retaliation against American targets if he was turned over or if he died in captivity, saying America "would suffer
Ashcroft said the Justice Department wanted to have indictments of Sheikh in place so that if he was released or escaped, U.S. authorities would have legal standing
to apprehend him. Ashcroft noted that Sheikh, who spent five years in an Indian prison, was freed in 1999 after colleagues hijacked an Indian jet and demanded his
"We didn't have charges pending in that setting," Ashcroft said, adding that if Sheikh was freed under any circumstances now, "we would be in a position to take
The two indictments contained some of the most detailed information to date on Sheikh, who studied at the London School of Economics before becoming linked
with militant organizations, including the Harkat Ansar, an armed Pakistani group seeking India's withdrawal from the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
According to Thursday's indictment, Sheikh trained in military camps in Afghanistan and fought with Taliban and Al Qaeda forces last fall before escaping to
Pakistan. Ashcroft said Sheikh then began pursuing a plan "to take hostage an acclaimed journalist from an influential U.S. newspaper in order to change U.S. policy
in the war against terror."
Sheikh used a false identity--Chaudrey Bashir--to correspond with Pearl by e-mail and lure him to the meeting in Karachi where he was abducted, according to the
Pearl was pursuing a story about possible links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, who is charged with attempting to blow up a Miami-bound plane in
December by igniting explosives in his shoes.
Sheikh, according to the indictment, offered to introduce Pearl to a prominent Muslim cleric. Last week, a Karachi taxi driver reportedly testified that he drove Pearl
to that meeting, and witnessed Sheikh shake Pearl's hand and usher the reporter into a white car.
A few days later, on Jan. 26, a group identifying itself as the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty e-mailed to several U.S. newspapers
pictures of a shackled Pearl with a gun to his head. The group made various demands, including the release of Pakistani prisoners in U.S. custody. Four days later, a
second e-mail message arrived warning that Pearl would be executed unless the demands were met.
Ashcroft said Thursday that before that second e-mail was sent, the kidnappers "had already brutally killed Daniel Pearl and videotaped the mutilation of his body."
There were reports Thursday that a new suspect was in custody in Pakistan who claimed responsibility for killing Pearl aboard a boat in the Arabian Sea. Justice
Department officials declined to comment on the report.
A Pakistani judge this week agreed to give prosecutors until March 22 to continue their investigation of Pearl's slaying. Authorities continue to search for Pearl's
body and the weapon used to kill him.
Pearl's French-born wife, Mariane, who is pregnant with the couple's first child, met Thursday with President Bush, Ashcroft and other officials. A spokesman for
the Pearl family declined to comment on the meetings.
Pearl had worked abroad since the mid-1990s for the Wall Street Journal. The indictment was handed down by a federal grand jury in New Jersey, a location
chosen because it is where the Journal has been based since its New York offices were damaged extensively in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
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Karzai Fails to Enlist Germany
March 15, 2002 Talk about it E-mail story
Diplomacy: Afghan leader is unable to persuade Berlin to take top peacekeeping role when Britain steps down.
By CAROL J. WILLIAMS, TIMES STAFF WRITER
BERLIN -- In a rare setback during his global travels to drum up support for his shattered homeland, interim Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai failed Thursday
to persuade German officials to take charge of international peacekeepers in Kabul next month when Britain's command expires.
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping vowed that Germany will play a major role in rebuilding Afghanistan but said that
Bundeswehr troops risk being "overextended" if they expand their role in the Central Asian country.
"I made it clear that we are skeptical about any physical expansion of the mandate," Schroeder told journalists after his talks here with Karzai, who is on a three-day
visit to press for aid and investment. But Schroeder left the door open to extending the stay of German peacekeepers, who are among 4,500 troops from 19
countries in and near the still-volatile Afghan capital.
The U.N.-authorized International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan is funded and staffed only through June. But most nations participating in the huge
stabilization and reconstruction effort acknowledge that a major international presence will be needed much longer to ensure that the next phase of pacifying the
country stays on track.
A convention of Afghan tribal elders known as a loya jirga is to take place in mid-June to elect a new government and provisional legislature to serve 18 months and
prepare for elections. Karzai, clad in his now-trademark silk cloak draped over a Western blazer, said Berlin has offered to finance the loya jirga to ensure that the
second stage of a peace process begun in Bonn in November comes to fruition.
The peacekeeping force has proved a major confidence-building factor for Kabul residents, so much so that Karzai said he hears pleas from elsewhere in the
country for a similar deployment to guard against any resurgence of fighting.
"This is a petition from the Afghan people. In asking for more international peacekeepers here, for more ISAF, I am only repeating the demands of the Afghan
people," Karzai said.
Speaking at a brief welcoming meeting with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, Karzai told journalists that he had come to Berlin to make the case for
Bundeswehr command of a force that includes 1,200 German troops.
"We were not able to persuade Germany of this," Karzai said after his talks with Schroeder, and he repeated his disappointment after meeting with Scharping.
The German defense minister repeated Schroeder's explanation that with 10,000 German troops deployed from the Balkans to East Timor, his forces would run the
risk of failing in their other missions if Berlin were to expand its commitment in Afghanistan.
Germany has agreed, however, to take over the "tactical command" of troops in Kabul, organizing day-to-day functions such as patrolling, but overall command is
expected to be assumed by Turkey, making it responsible for the more demanding tasks of arranging communications, negotiations, security for officials and
Schroeder and his Cabinet also promised Karzai 320 million euros, about $280 million, in reconstruction and development aid for the war-ravaged country during
the next three years.
Karzai meets today with German industrialists to discuss details of the Berlin government's pledge to share its telecommunications and construction expertise with
Afghans as they set out to rescue a country left in ruins after more than a generation of unrelenting bombing and bloodshed.
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Afghan jobs project begins
Friday, 15 March, 2002, 01:37 GMT
The United Nations Development programme has launched a new scheme in Afghanistan aimed at providing some 20,000 new jobs over the next six months.
The first work project has already begun, with a rebuilding of a primary school for boys and girls in a village Chehelsotune some 5km outside Kabul.
It marks the start of a $3m project funded by Japan, which will include road repairs, sanitation and water supplies, the building of schools and hospitals, and the
removal of rubble.
Workers will be paid an average of $2 a day.
From the newsroom of the BBC World Service
Allied Troops Pursue al-Qaida
Friday March 15 5:49 AM ET
By PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press Writer
BAGRAM, Afghanistan (news - web sites) (AP) - U.S. and Canadian troops pursued four al-Qaida fighters through the mountains of eastern Afghanistan on Friday
after the enemy slipped away following a gunbattle that erupted during the mopping up operations of the biggest U.S.-led offensive of the Afghan war.
Helicopters, commandos and ground troops scanned the valley passes to track stragglers after the brief exchange of fire Thursday. Coalition troops clearing caves
and bunkers in the Shah-e-Kot valley also killed three enemy fighters after a separate 90-minute gunbattle as the remnants of al-Qaida fighters struggled to survive in
the aftermath of Operation Anaconda.
``Today is March 15, so here's a sooth for the al-Qaida,'' said Maj. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the 10th Mountain Division. ``If you come out of your holes, I'd
say beware the Ides of March.''
The search came after a separate incident in which coalition troops subdued a cell of suspected al-Qaida or Taliban fighters with anti-tank weapons, grenades, heavy
machine guns and small arms fire. There were no coalition casualties, said the Canadian Press news agency, which has a reporter with the Canadian troops.
The coalition casualty toll stood at eight U.S. special forces troops and three Afghan allied fighters. All died in the first two days of the operation.
U.S., Canadian and Afghan troops combed the area around the Shah-e-Kot valley for intelligence information and any stray enemy fighters left behind after al-Qaida
and its Afghan Taliban allies fled the area following 12 days of airstrikes and ground fighting in Operation Anaconda.
Maj. Gen. Frank L. Hagenbeck, the commander of all coalition troops in Afghanistan, told reporters he had ordered DNA tests on remains of al-Qaida fighters to
determine whether any senior figures in the terrorist network were among the dead.
Neither Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) nor Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar was believed to be in the area on March 2 when U.S. forces and their
Afghan allies launched Operation Anaconda.
Hagenbeck said some of the 20 prisoners captured in the operation indicated that ``second and third tier'' al-Qaida leaders had been killed and he ordered the tests
just to make sure that no senior figures were there too.
``Even if it's a long shot that maybe one of these al-Qaida leaders (was there), we want to go through every means we've got available to us to try to positively
identify them,'' Hagenbeck said.
Hagenbeck has said coalition forces searching the caves had already found bomb making devices, extensive weapons caches, manuals on how to attack individuals
in cars and blow up bridges.
He also said the cave searches have turned up large weapons caches, some of which will be turned over to the Afghan army.
Hagenbeck acknowledged that some civilians were killed in the fighting, though he did not say how many. He blamed the deaths on the al-Qaida fighters, who set up
mortar positions between the houses in the hamlets of the Shah-e-Kot Valley.
It is still uncertain how many enemy fighters were killed in the operation. Some U.S. officer have estimated as many as 500 al-Qaida fighters were killed, but Afghan
fighters said only 25 bodies had been found in the initial sweep of the area. Others may be buried in caves that collapsed during the bombing.
U.S. and Afghan officials are also uncertain how many fighters may have escaped and are trying to flee to Pakistan. U.S. attack helicopters patrolled over the area
Thursday trying to locate any pockets of al-Qaida survivors.
Pentagon (news - web sites) spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Wednesday that fighting in the Shah-e-Kot area had ``mostly ended'' and that troops were in the
``exploitation phase,'' going cave to cave in search of bodies, weapons and intelligence information.
``We will have a long way to go in Afghanistan,'' she warned. U.S. and Afghan officials believe there are still pockets of al-Qaida and Taliban fugitives in several
southern and central provinces, as well as in Pakistan.
Afghan Battle Over but Rebels Still Pose Threat
Fri Mar 15, 1:51 AM ET
By Brian Williams and Christine Hauser
BAGRAM AIR BASE/SHAHI KOT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The U.S. military searched the littered battlefield at Shahi Kot in eastern Afghanistan (news - web
sites) Friday, warning there were still small pockets of Taliban or al Qaeda rebels holed up in the rugged mountains.
As mopping up operations were carried out, Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites), on an 11-country Middle East tour, was due to visit a U.S. aircraft
carrier in the Arabian Sea supporting Afghan operations, while Germany told Afghan leader Hamid Karzai it did not want to expand its peacekeeping role in Kabul.
Major Bryan Hilferty, U.S. military spokesman at Bagram air base near Kabul, the main base for the 12-day battle in which hundreds of rebels are believed to have
been killed, said "three or four" fleeing rebels clashed with U.S. and Afghan troops Thursday night.
"They managed to escape but it indicates that any rebels left are in these small numbers," Hilferty told reporters.
Bombing continued through the night, with B-52s and other warplanes prowling the skies above Shahi Kot and its surrounding high mountains where desperate
Taliban or al Qaeda fighters may be holed up.
Hilferty, a former professor of English, in a message to remaining rebels invoked the warning delivered to Roman emperor Julius Caesar shortly before his
assassination on March 15, 44 B.C.: "Beware the ides of March."
Hilferty said DNA tests were being conducted.
"We are carrying out DNA testing on the battlefield," he said. "I do not have details of what it involves."
The commander of U.S. ground forces, General Frank Hagenbeck, said Thursday he believed Chechens, Uzbeks and Chinese were among the dead, but neither
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, nor al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) were involved in the battle.
Afghan troops searching caves Thursday also found Egyptians, Sudanese, Indonesians and other foreigners among 20 dead Taliban or al Qaeda fighters.
The vicious clashes ended Wednesday when U.S., Canadian and Afghan troops overran rebel caves and trenches near Gardez, capital of Paktia province, about
150 km (95 miles) south of Kabul.
The U.S. military says troops found a treasure trove of intelligence information in wary searches of mined and booby-trapped caves burrowed into the mountains that
soar 12,000 feet (3,660 meters).
General Paul Mikolashek, commander of ground forces involved in the Afghan theater, said the caves had been well stocked with food, water and weapons.
"They had been there for a long time and if we hadn't gone after them they could have stayed there for a long time," he told reporters at Bagram.
He paid tribute to the U.S. troops involved in the battle of Shahi Kot, describing them as "great soldiers" who had made a major contribution to the U.S. war on
But he forecast further battles ahead in Afghanistan against rebels who might be hiding out in similar numbers to those first engaged at Shahi Kot.
The U.S. military says it killed 800 to 1,000 militants during the campaign, although some Afghan commanders have expressed concerns many may have slipped
across the mountains toward the nearby Pakistan border.
Cheney's discussions with Arab leaders have included U.S. aims to prevent Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) from acquiring weapons of mass
destruction as the U.S.-led war on terror starts to move away from Afghanistan.
He was in Oman Thursday but, having visited four countries on the tour so far, has met resistance to the possibility of a military strike on Iraq.
Saudi Arabia's de facto leader Crown Prince Abdullah repeated the kingdom's objections to a U.S. strike against neighboring Iraq in a U.S. television interview.
And he told ABC "20/20" program for broadcast Friday, that the Saudi-born bin Laden was no threat to the oil-rich nation.
In Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told Karzai, on a 48-hour visit, that Germany did not want to expand its peacekeeping role in Afghanistan.
The country has 850 troops in Kabul as part of an international peacekeeping mission. Karzai said Afghanistan wants the mission to cover a larger area of the
country, which has a history of factional fighting between rival warlords.
Peacekeepers Conduct Security Survey
Fri Mar 15, 6:41 AM ET
By STEVEN GUTKIN, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - The British-led international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan (news - web sites) began a security survey of a house being refurbished
to receive exiled Afghan King Mohammed Zaher Shah when he returns to Kabul this month.
The force will also provide ambulance support for the 87-year-old king and make medical assistance available at facilities run by French and German peacekeepers,
Lt. Col. Neal Peckham, a peacekeepers' spokesman, said Friday.
"He's quite a senior gentleman and somewhat frail," Peckham said.
Afghan interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai said Thursday in Moscow that he will travel to Rome on or around March 23 to pick up the king and return with him to
Afghanistan. He did not elaborate.
In June, the former monarch is to convene a traditional tribal assembly, or loya jirga, which will select a transitional government to rule Afghanistan for 18 months,
Zaher Shah is beloved in much of the country, remembered for the progress and relative prosperity that accompanied his 40-year rule, which ended when he was
ousted in 1973 by a cousin.
Many here and abroad have looked to him as a symbolic figure who could help heal Afghanistan's war wounds and bring together feuding ethnic and tribal groups.
When he returns to Afghanistan this month for the first time in three decades, Zaher Shah is expected to take up residence in a family-owned home that was last used
by the Taliban's prime minister.
The 4,600-strong peacekeeping force is conducting a security survey of the home and doing some "engineering work" to make sure the house is safe from potential
attacks, Peckham said.
An example of that work, he said, is telling authorities where walls should be built to block views of potential targets.
Italian authorities are responsible for the king's security "until he steps off the plane" in Kabul. From then on, Afghan officials will provide security, Peckham said. The
peacekeeping force will not be responsible for the king's security, he added.
Afghans Rally for Peace
Fri Mar 15, 3:51 AM ET
By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press Writer
KABUL, Afghanistan - The young boys finished singing their elegy and, all around the bullet-pocked mosque, wrinkled men in turbans wiped away tears.
They gathered Thursday to mark the anniversary of the 1995 death of Abdul Ali Mazari, an ethnic Hazara leader beloved by his people as a martyr but blamed for
having wrought destruction on Kabul during factional fighting in the 1990s.
The ceremony was meant to honor Mazari's violent past, but instead it became a rally for a peaceful future that many Afghans now believe is possible for the first
time in decades.
"If we lose this momentum, we won't have such a chance in the future," said Mohammed Karim Khalili, leader of the Hazara's main party, the
Hezb-e-Wahdad-e-Islami, or Islamic Unity Party.
The Hazara are followers of the Shia branch of Islam, which is dominant in Iran and a few other places. Sunni Muslims — who made up most of the Taliban —
consider it a flawed version of Islam. Named for Hazarajat, the region of Afghanistan (news - web sites) where they live, the group makes up about 10 percent of
the country's population.
Slightly less than half of Afghanistan's population belongs to the Pashtun ethnic group, about a quarter are ethnic Tajik and 8 percent are ethnic Uzbek, mostly in the
north. The rest are members of various tribal groups.
Standing at the front of the mosque, Khalili pledged his support for an upcoming tribal assembly, or loya jirga, which will select a government to rule Afghanistan until
"What the loya jirga decides, and who the loya jirga elects as the head for the country, we accept it," he said to shouts of "Allah-o-Akbar!" or "God is great!"
Such statesmanlike comments would not have been uttered during Mazari's time, when mujahedeen fighters, who ousted Soviet troops, turned their guns on one
another all around the country. Many of the same people are ruling today in Kabul.
The fighting leveled entire neighborhoods of Kabul into heaps of mud-brick rubble and only stopped once the hard-line Taliban militia rolled into the capital in
Mazari's Shiite Muslim troops were as violent as any other, raining rockets down on fighters loyal to his Tajik, Pashtun or Uzbek rivals. Mazari was killed when
seized by the Taliban, who also were accused of widespread discrimination and attacks against Hazaras. The Taliban were mostly Pashtun.
Some feared the Taliban's ouster last year by the United States and some of Mazari's old rivals in the northern alliance would encourage a return to the warfare that
ruled Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s.
Most believe it has not happened because of the presence of international peacekeepers and the U.S. B-52 bombers flying overhead.
From the speeches at Mazari's ceremony and the optimism echoing from the mosque, it appeared many Hazaras have come to terms with the past and want a better
"We want to forget all the imbalances of the past," said Sakhidad, a baker who returned to Afghanistan just eight days earlier from a refugee camp in Quetta,
"We are forgiving them."
Another mourner at the ceremony — distinguished as a Hazara by his Mongol features — said the Hazaras would not resort to violence even if the loya jirga did not
provide his people with fair representation.
"If they don't take our rights into consideration, we will become sad, but we won't rise up against the government," said Sharif, an unemployed 35-year-old.
A few blocks away, in a neighborhood of western Kabul that has been virtually abandoned because of the destruction wrought by the fighting, a 20-year-old who
was selling wood spoke of his desire for peace.
"My house was destroyed by the Hazaras, but I forgive them because we are fed up with fighting," Abdul Salam said. "I want to forget these problems."
Destroyed Afghan Hamlet Files Claim
Thu Mar 14, 7:14 PM ET
By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent
CHOKER KARAIZ, Afghanistan - The stricken old man could barely walk through the rubble of his village. The vision of the torn bodies of women and children
was still too real in his mind's eye.
"Every time I walk through here, I see the scene all over again," Mohammad Qasin said Thursday.
Villagers say 52 people, mostly women and children, were killed in the bombing and strafing four months ago that obliterated this isolated hamlet, a few houses
ringed by irrigated wheat fields among miles of semi-desert emptiness in southern Afghanistan (news - web sites).
Now the case of Choker Karaiz is one of dozens of U.S. air attacks for which survivors have filed claims for compensation.
"We don't know. God knows," survivor Aziz Ahmed said Thursday when asked why U.S. pilots might have attacked this tiny, mud-walled place one night in late
The government of Kandahar province alone has filed more than 70 compensation cases involving U.S. air attacks with the central government in Kabul, provincial
spokesman Yusuf Pashtun said Wednesday.
"Hamid Karzai said send them to the Ministry of the Interior," Pashtun said, referring to Afghanistan's interim national leader.
Pashtun said four cases involved multiple deaths in Kandahar villages, with the biggest being Choker Karaiz, 25 miles east of Kandahar city. The rest were cases of
single deaths or limited damage here and there in the province, he said. Others, "hard to prove," were not forwarded to Kabul, he said.
The provincial spokesman said he had no information on how the compensation process will work. It could not be learned immediately whether the U.S. government
would consider such claims, or whether they would be handled exclusively by the Afghan government or by a joint commission.
Maj. Brad Lowell, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said Thursday he was unaware of any process for Afghans to make claims against the U.S. military.
The Pentagon (news - web sites) has said civilians were never deliberately targeted during the bombing in Afghanistan but has acknowledged that some bombs went
Last month, however, the Pentagon acknowledged that U.S. Army forces killed 14 or more Afghans who were neither al-Qaida nor Taliban members during a raid
in Uruzgan province in January.
Provincial Gov. Jan Mohammed delivered $1,000 to $2,000 to each dead man's family, as well as a verbal apology relayed on behalf of high-ranking U.S. officials
he declined to identify.
The Taliban took a group of foreign reporters to the village in November and claimed 92 people died there. Reporters at the time counted about 15 graves.
The Choker Karaiz raid is not among the incidents the U.S. military is investigating as possibly involving the killing of civilians, U.S. Central Command spokesman Lt.
Col. Martin Compton said Thursday.
Peter Bouckaert, a researcher with the New York-based Human Rights Watch, independently interviewed people in Choker Karaiz in an effort to establish a civilian
"We believe that at least 25 and possibly as many as 35 civilians died in this bombing raid. Often times civilians give random numbers that tend to be too high but we
try to confirm as many as possible and we were able to confirm at least 25 here."
Based on the interviews, Bouckaert learned that the convoy hit was of a wealthy family that had left Kandahar and was headed to the village. "From the air it might
have looked like a Taliban convoy but it was not."
The Afghan Red Crescent Society in Kandahar — the equivalent of the Red Cross — has examined and compiled reports of civilian casualties in the province in the
October-to-January U.S. air war, and its list shows 65 dead at Choker Karaiz, said the society's Abdul Latif.
"We did investigations after hearing reports from various places," he said.
The different estimates of fatalities may result from the fact that some of the Choker Karaiz dead were buried elsewhere, some injured may have died later in distant
hospitals, and some killed were Kochis, members of Afghan nomad families who had set their tents down on the fringes of the farmland and who later may not have
"When the Kochis heard the bombing, they started running toward the mountains — without shoes even — and the planes chased them, firing at them, and killed all
of them," said Shamsullah, a 26-year-old man who said 19 members of his family, mostly cousins, were killed in the village.
Survivors said the planes attacked around midnight on Oct. 28, first dropping a single bomb on the hamlet — a traditional mud-walled compound of eight houses,
plus an inner irrigation pond. The Americans followed with strafing runs that villagers said killed most of the victims as they ran panic-stricken for shelter. Finally, a
half-dozen more bombs were dropped, survivors said.
Today, only two little chicken hutches, made of mud, are left standing. The houses are heaps of broken mud blocks, with shredded metal cans and plates, shoes and
shards of shrapnel scattered among the craters and piles of rubble.
The villages in this region are spaced miles apart over rock-strewn flatlands with lines of sight extending to distant horizons. Nothing can be seen near Choker Karaiz
suggesting any presence of al-Qaida terrorist or Taliban military targets. "This place didn't look like anything belonging to the government," said Saifullah, a neighbor
and farmer in his 40s.
Some survivors speculated that U.S. reconnaissance at some point spotted a line of automobiles approaching the hamlet — at a time when Kandahar residents were
fleeing bombing in the city — and someone decided they were terrorists or Taliban. The eight homes, occupied by tenant farmers, were owned by a single Kandahar
businessman who brought his family here in October. Most of the family, including the businessman, died.
"The bullets were coming down from the planes like the spring rain — first from one direction, then the other," said the businessman's cousin Aziz Ahmed, 36, who
survived with slight wounds by jumping into a ditch.
"Fourteen or 15 died here," Niaz Mohammad, 40, a farmer from nearby, said of one collapsed house. "I helped dig them out the next morning."
The aged Mohammad Qasin, his voice shaking and eyes tearing, told of helping pile the bodies into a tractor wagon that next day, to haul them back to Kandahar
city. How many bodies? "I don't know," he said. "We buried 19 here. The rest belonged in the city. I can't do the numbers." He walked away.
Neither Afghan nor U.S. authorities have calculated Afghanistan's civilian death toll in the war on terrorism. Although estimates have placed the civilian dead in the
thousands, a review by The Associated Press suggests the toll may be in the mid-hundreds, a figure reached by examining hospital records, visiting bomb sites and
interviewing witnesses and officials.
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