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Kabul grocery bombing said to target French diplomats

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Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 8:28 AM

KABUL - The Afghan National Security Directorate said Thursday that an imprisoned Taliban fighter masterminded a suicide bombing last month at a Kabul grocery store that killed eight people.

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Talib Jan, 45, plotted the attack from Pul-i-Charkhi prison on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, where he has been incarcerated for the past three years, the directorate said.

Correcting initial reports that the attack targeted the head of the U.S. security contractor formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide, directorate spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said the plan was to assassinate two French diplomats.

In connection with the attack, the directorate arrested Muhammad Khan, a 33-year-old Kabul resident who described at a news conference how he drove the bomber into Afghanistan from the tribal region of Pakistan.

Khan, 33, shuffled past a scrum of cameras, wearing handcuffs, a bright orange prison uniform and a tired face.

In a monotone voice, he admitted to having previously planted explosives along a road and bridge traveled by troops in the U.S.-led coalition. However, Khan said he had been unaware that his passenger, Muhammad Shoib, was a suicide bomber.

"When I heard some innocent civilians were killed, I felt so bad," Khan said. "I want the president of Afghanistan, the people and the government authorities to forgive me."

Khan said he crossed into Pakistan with a Taliban commander named Muhammad Shah at the request of two Afghans, who offered him $300 to negotiate the release of two French journalists kidnapped by the Taliban in late 2009.

One of those men worked for the French Embassy in Kabul, he said. They allegedly told him that the Afghan government would not arrest him if the negotiations ended badly.

A spokesman for the French Embassy said the Afghan government had not informed them that their diplomats were the targets of the attack or that an employee is allegedly connected to the plot.

Khan returned to Kabul empty-handed, but he had agreed to give Shoib a ride into the city.

On Jan. 28, the Taliban commander phoned Khan to let him know that he and Shoib had arrived at the Finest, a supermarket that caters to expatriates. Shoib started the attack with gunfire and ended it with a deadly explosion.

Khan said foreign and Afghan government agents raided his house and arrested him the next day. He figured they tracked him down by intercepting the phone call from the Taliban commander.

Special correspondent Habib Zohori contributed to this report.

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