Afghans hit suspects in attack on Karzai

Officials say militants linked to al-Qaida were in security units

May 01, 2008|By New York Times News Service..

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The attempt to kill President Hamid Karzai on Sunday was the work of militants who had infiltrated Afghanistan's security forces and had ties to groups linked to al- Qaida in Pakistan's tribal areas, the Afghan intelligence chief said yesterday.

The claims emerged after a day of heightened alarm in which Afghan security forces killed and captured a number of suspects involved in Sunday's assassination attempt, raiding three safe houses in Kabul. An eight-hour siege with one cell left seven people dead, including a child and three security officials.

One of those killed was a militant named Homayoun, who assisted the attack on Karzai as well as the bombing in January of the five-star Serena Hotel in Kabul, killing seven people, Amrullah Saleh, the intelligence chief, said at a news conference.

Afghan intelligence officials say they have linked him through an intermediary to Jalaluddin Haqqani, a mujahedeen commander based in Pakistan's tribal areas who has long had ties to al-Qaida.

The statements by Afghan officials suggested that al-Qaida-linked militants based in Pakistan were working closer with the Taliban to threaten the Karzai government, bringing a new level of sophistication to attacks being felt increasingly in and around the capital.

U.S. counterterrorism officials in Washington, however, said it was not yet clear what role al-Qaida might have played in the attack against Karzai, even while they acknowledged Haqqani's links to the group.

Afghan and Western intelligence officials have warned for more than a year that Taliban and al-Qaida militants were using their sanctuary in Pakistan's tribal areas to fortify their ties, recruit fighters and expand their ranks of suicide bombers.

The tightening alliance has been felt not only here but in Pakistan, where militants linked to al-Qaida have carried out scores of suicide attacks over the past year and pushed Pakistan's new government into talks aimed at a truce. It has also alarmed American and Western officials who report a rise in cross-border attacks from Pakistan this year.

"Once again our country was attacked from Pakistani soil," Saleh, the head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, said at a joint news conference with the defense and interior ministers. "This is clear like the sun, and we have all the evidence to show that." That included cell phone calls to Pakistan until the militants' final moments, he said.

The apparent unraveling of the plot here with such speed came after the Interior Ministry arrested some of its own men, who had been under investigation since the Serena bombing, the officials said.

One of them confessed to involvement in the attack on a military parade Sunday, which killed three and wounded 11, and gave information on other groups in Kabul that were planning more attacks, Saleh and the others said.

The informant confessed to receiving money in return for weapons for the group and providing cover for them through his job. A second suspect confessed to supplying the weapons for the attacks, Saleh said.

Members of the police and a high-ranking officer of the Defense Ministry are accused of helping the group, according to a member of the intelligence service who requested anonymity.

Saleh called the men traitors and said more would be revealed about them after a full report was handed to the president. Both the interior minister and defense minister admitted there had been infiltration of the security services.

"From the investigation so far it has become clear that the enemy to some limit infiltrated our security forces," said Defense Minister Rahim Wardak. "Those who were involved have also been arrested."

Within an hour of the confessions, security forces had surrounded a house yesterday morning in central Kabul, Saleh said.

Three intelligence officials were killed in the ensuing battle. The security forces finally set off explosives, which killed all those inside - the militant Homayoun, another man, a woman and a child - Saleh said.

Six other suspects were arrested in a village on the eastern edge of the capital, he said, adding that another raid in a suburb of eastern Kabul was under way. Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Muqbil said his ministry had been watching a group of police officers suspected of involvement in the attack on the Serena Hotel and that they had been arrested. Saleh said none of the suspects were from the intelligence service.

The group killed inside the house had been in telephone contact with people in Miramshah, the capital of North Waziristan, as well as Bajaur, another tribal region of Pakistan, and with Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier province. They were using Pakistani SIM cards in their cell phones, Saleh said.

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