Ex-Taliban Chief Details Massood Slaying

The Associated Press
Sunday, September 10, 2006; 3:25 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The beat-up video camera was delivered to Afghanistan in a box, and picked up by two clean-shaven Arabs posing as journalists. They met with Osama bin Laden before leaving on their mission _ to kill mujahedeen hero Ahmad Shah Massood.

Five years after the Taliban opponent was slain by a bomb hidden in the camera, a former Taliban official on Saturday described how al-Qaida staged the killing _ two days before the Sept. 11 attack on America _ hoping to strike a fatal blow to the pro-U.S. Northern Alliance.

Waheed Mozhdah, director of the then-Taliban Foreign Ministry's Middle East and Africa department, also showed The Associated Press a copy of what he said was a signed letter dated Sept. 13, 2001, from bin Laden to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, urging him to launch an offensive against the alliance.

In the letter, written in Arabic, bin Laden said that if America failed to respond to the Sept. 11 attacks, it would decline as a superpower. But if the U.S. started fighting, he added, its economy would suffer a major blow and it would face the same destiny as the Soviet Union _ whose ill-fated 1980s occupation of Afghanistan heralded its disintegration.

Few details have emerged previously about how al-Qaida plotted to murder Massood, the "Lion of Panjshir" who fought Soviet troops and led resistance to the Taliban regime. At the time, his Northern Alliance was under siege, barely clinging to a mountainous northern corner of the country.

But the U.S. military campaign after Sept. 11 to punish the Taliban for giving refuge to bin Laden propelled Massood's supporters to power, and the bearded commander has achieved iconic status. Giant portraits of him adorn government offices and public spaces in Kabul, and the Sept. 9 anniversary of his death is marked in grand style.

President Hamid Karzai on Saturday addressed a crowd of thousands at a Kabul stadium attending an official Massood commemoration.

"They came from outside to kill him. They put a bomb inside a camera pretending they wanted to interview him. Why did they kill him? Because he said they would defeat them," he said.

The attackers apparently were North African Arabs traveling on forged Belgian passports who managed to pass through the front line between the warring Taliban and Northern Alliance carrying their bomb.

"We never suspected journalists. Our leaders were careless," said Massood Khalili, a former Massood adviser who was seriously wounded in the blast.

One of the Arabs died in the bombing. The other, who survived the blast, was shot dead by enraged bodyguards.

Mozhdah said bin Laden appeared to hint at the plot during a meeting with Taliban Information Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in the southern city of Kandahar _ the seat of the ousted Taliban regime _ just after the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan in 2000.

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