Taliban Defector Is Assassinated

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, January 15, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 14 -- Gunmen in the southern city of Kandahar on Saturday killed a former Taliban leader who had repudiated the extremist movement in recent years, siding instead with the U.S. presence and Afghanistan's move toward democracy.

Mohammed Khaksar, the Taliban's former intelligence chief, was shot in the chest, neck and head by two gunmen on a motorbike while he was carrying groceries home from a market around 4 p.m., according to his brother and the Kandahar police chief. He died instantly.

The incident was the latest in a string of brazen attacks that continue to haunt the country four years after the Taliban was ousted from power. In recent weeks, a teacher was beheaded, and numerous other Afghans have been killed in suicide attacks.

The Taliban, whose members are waging an insurgency against international forces and the new democratically elected government, asserted responsibility for Khaksar's killing.

"We were after him for a long time and found the opportunity to kill him today," the organization's purported spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousuf, said in a satellite telephone call to the Reuters news agency. Yousuf told the Associated Press that Khaksar was "a traitor to our cause."

But Khaksar's brother said it was too early to assign blame. "We don't know exactly who has killed our brother," Abdullah Nazik said. "Only God knows who has done this."

Khaksar, who was in his mid-forties and had five children, was the Taliban's intelligence chief, and later its deputy interior minister. He was a key player in the movement as it swept to power in the mid-1990s, and at one time he was a close friend of Taliban leader Mohammad Omar.

But he became disenchanted with the expanded role of al Qaeda in the country's affairs. In 1999, he had said, he secretly reached out to the United States and offered to help confront the Taliban and the terrorist organization that backed it. Khaksar also became an informant for the Northern Alliance, an anti-Taliban militia group.

Two years later, he defected from the Taliban within weeks of the movement's retreat from Kabul, publicly aligning himself with Northern Alliance forces that had taken the capital with U.S. support.

In numerous interviews with Western media outlets after his defection, Khaksar said he believed the Taliban had been co-opted by al Qaeda. "Al Qaeda was very important for the Taliban because they had so much money," Khaksar said in an interview with The Washington Post in November 2001. "They gave a lot of money. And the Taliban trusted them."

Khaksar also explained how Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of al Qaeda, would personally distribute funds to Taliban leaders he wanted to control. "He had money in his pocket," Khaksar said. "Any time he wanted, he would just pull it out and give it to them."

Khaksar ran in parliamentary elections in September but fell short in his bid to represent Kandahar. He had recently told the Associated Press that Taliban fighters were threatening his life.

U.S. and Afghan authorities condemned his killing.

"Anyone who is killing the people who are supporting the democratization process and the reconstruction process, they are the enemies of Afghanistan," said Afghanistan's national security adviser, Zalmai Rassoul. "And that is the way they are perceived by the Afghan people."

"Tragic events such as this only solidify our resolve that we must eradicate terrorism now," said Col. James Yonts, the U.S. military spokesman in Kabul. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Afghan families of those who have been lost in this war against terrorism."

The Afghan government has frequently appealed to Taliban members to disavow their allegiance to the movement and begin working within the country's fledgling democratic system. But Khaksar's death underscored the risk involved at a time when insurgents continue to operate with impunity in many areas.

The killing came on a day of violence throughout southern and eastern Afghanistan, which have been the most dangerous parts of the country in recent years. In the southeastern town of Khost, one person was killed and 40 wounded by two bomb attacks. In the southern province of Helmand, a suicide bomber blew himself up near U.S.-led forces operating in the area, injuring a U.S. soldier. And in the eastern province of Paktia, an Afghan soldier and two suspected insurgents were killed in a clash.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company