Afghan minister killed in fighting

Civil aviation chief sought revenge for attempted assassination of father


KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's minister for civil aviation, who is the son of one of the country's most powerful warlords, was killed yesterday as fighting broke out in Herat. It was some of the worst violence in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban more than two years ago.

While accounts were conflicting over what set off the fighting, officials in Herat in western Afghanistan said it began after a failed assassination attempt against the warlord Ismail Khan, who is also the provincial governor.

Khan's son, Mir Wais Sadeq, the minister of civil aviation for the central government, was then killed as he led an advance on the headquarters of the commander whom he blamed for the assault on his father, said Herat's deputy intelligence chief, Abdul Wahid Tawakali.

The British Broadcasting Corp.'s Pashto service said the police, security and counternarcotics chiefs of Herat had also been killed, and the intelligence chief injured, after seven rocket-propelled grenades were fired at Sadeq's convoy.

Troops loyal to Khan surrounded the home and headquarters of the government commander they considered responsible for the attack, Zaher Naibzadah, and his brigade last night, and fighting was continuing. Reports that as many as 100 people had been killed were unconfirmed.

"There was heavy fighting earlier - it is now reported to be sporadic," said Omar Samad, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Occurring as Afghanistan is struggling to hold elections this summer, the violence underscores how fragile the country's stability remains after two decades of war. Sadeq is the second civil aviation and tourism minister, and the third government minister, to be killed since President Hamid Karzai's interim administration took office in December 2001.

Abdul Rahman, an aviation and tourism minister, was killed in Kabul in February 2002. Haji Qadeer, a vice president and minister of public works, was also assassinated that year.

The U.S. Embassy released a statement last night saying that "Afghans must not let the success of the last two years be put in jeopardy by this incident."

Herat, which is about 75 miles from the Iranian border, has been largely peaceful, not least because Khan has kept tight control over dissidents and potential enemies.

His firm hold on power and unwillingness to permit free political activity have been seen in Kabul as obstacles to free and fair elections, and his refusal to submit fully to the rule of the central government has been viewed as an impediment to the rebuilding of the country.

Yesterday afternoon, Khan was in a Herat park, the Bagh-e-Melat, when men opened fire about 5:30 p.m., Tawakali, the deputy intelligence chief, said.

Some men were detained and apparently implicated Naibzadah. "He is responsible," Tawakali said. As Sadeq, the minister, and others headed to the commander's headquarters, they came under attack.

Samad said the Afghan defense minister, Marshall Fahim, and Interior Minister Ali Jalali, would lead a delegation to Herat to ensure that a cease-fire was in place, as well as to attend Sadeq's funeral.

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