Assassination bid isolated, not part of plot, Karzai says

Lax security poses nation's gravest threat, Afghan leader states

September 07, 2002|By COX NEWS SERVICE

KABUL, Afghanistan - One day after he narrowly survived an assassination attempt, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told reporters yesterday at his presidential palace that it was an isolated act and not a long-term threat to the government.

Karzai, fired upon Thursday while visiting the southern city of Kandahar for his brother's wedding, said lax security and not a complex plot to bring down his government was the real threat to Afghanistan.

The assassination attempt occurred a few hours after a large bomb exploded near a market in Kabul, killing more than a dozen people and injuring about 150 others.

"Those incidents do not indicate any problems," said Karzai of the violence. "Those incidents were done by terrorists in an isolated manner. This means they are no longer capable of mobilizing as groups, so they act as individuals."

A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, British Naval Cmdr. Simon Ryan, said the attack did not appear to have been a suicide bombing.

The number of deaths was revised downward yesterday from 26 to about 15, he said, adding that he had no information on the people who were killed.

Afghan authorities investigating the bombing arrested two suspects yesterday.

The man who fired at Karzai and wounded the provincial governor Thursday was shot and killed at the scene by U.S. special forces who have been guarding the president.

Kandahar Police Chief Mohammed Akram identified the gunman yesterday as Abdur Rehman from the Kajaki area of Helmand province west of Kandahar. Raids in that area by U.S. forces pursuing enemy fighters have angered local residents.

Yesterday, security and intelligence authorities in Kandahar detained Rehman's 14 co-workers in an effort to investigate possible links to such groups as Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and the extreme Islamic Taliban that once ruled much of Afghanistan.

Kandahar provincial spokesman Khalid Pashtoon said Rehman had been hired only four days ago as a security guard for the governor's mansion. Akram said Rehman had worked as a security guard for 15 days.

"The provinces' recruitment procedure is very lax," Karzai complained. "Anyone who comes in is accepted."

Karzai refused to speculate on the reasons behind the assassination attempt, but other members of his government have blamed al-Qaida or remnants of the Taliban.

The U.S. government holds al-Qaida responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks and holds the Taliban responsible for providing al-Qaida sanctuary in Afghanistan before it was deposed by a U.S.-led assault.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said yesterday at a news briefing in Washington that, while the perpetrators of the Kabul blast were not known, "these are exactly the sorts of tactics we associate" with al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The two incidents, coming in the wake of a number of recent smaller bombings and attacks, have increased concerns among some about the level of security in the war-torn country.

At the United Nations World Food Programme offices in New York, spokesman Khaled Mansour said security concerns had not had a major impact on delivery of emergency supplies because there is some flexibility for deliveries. The greater danger, he said, is that violence can stifle essential longer-term development efforts and scare away international donors.

Mansour, who came to New York in July after more than two years in Afghanistan, said security in Afghanistan had been improving steadily until March. Since then, attacks, assassinations and lawlessness have risen in what he called "a very alarming trend."

Ryan disagreed. "We don't believe that overall security has significantly changed," he said.

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