x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Six arrested over alleged plot to kill Afghan president Hamid Karzai

Six people, including students and professors at Kabul University and one of Hamid Karzai's bodyguards, have been accused of plotting to assassinate the president.

KABUL // Afghanistan's intelligence service arrested six people, including one of Hamid Karzai's bodyguards, accused of plotting to assassinate the president, officials said yesterday.

The six were arrested by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the interior ministry spokesman, Siddiq Siddiqi, said at a news conference.

Initial reports said the bodyguard, Muhibullah Ahmadi, was from the president's ancestral village, Karz, in the country's south. The remaining detainees were students and professors at Kabul University, but details were not provided on how the group planned to assassinate Mr Karzai, who was in India when the arrests took place.

"A week ago, the National Directorate of Security arrested six people in connection with a plot to assassinate President Karzai," said Lutfullah Mashal, a spokesman for the NDS.

"These six people were introduced and recruited to Al Qaeda by Sayed Aqa, a religious teacher at Kabul Medical University."

Mr Aqa was in contact with an Egyptian and a Bangladeshi in North Waziristan, Mr Mashal said, adding that all of the group except Mr Muhibullah had visited North Waziristan a month ago where they were given suicide vests and had received weapons training.

The group also had access to a bank account with around US$150,000 (Dh550,500) in it that was used to transfer money to the Egyptian, named as Saifullah.

Mr Karzai has been the target of several assassination attempts by Taliban-led insurgents since he became president in 2004, but this plot comes after a series of high-profile assassinations of Karzai aides carried out by anti-government militants in recent months.

Many of the killings have relied on the recruitment of officials' bodyguards or outright deception. The assassination last month of the former president Burhanuddin Rabbani by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy has caused fear among both officials and ordinary Afghans that insurgents can infiltrate the highest levels of government.

In July, Mr Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was shot dead by a member of his own entourage at his home in Kandahar. Later that month, the mayor of Kandahar was assassinated by a suicide bomber at his office in the city.

Abdul Hadi Waheed, a former member of the Afghan parliament's defence commission, said: "After Rabbani, members of parliament and other officials, they are only meeting with those they trust or those who are checked by security. The people, whether they are bodyguards, teachers, or professors, they are sad," Mr Waheed said, referring to Afghanistan's growing instability. "And the Taliban can recruit them easily."

Despite what many military observers here said was the Taliban's weakened ability on the battlefield, the recent string of political assassinations may be even more crippling than a conventionally strong insurgency.

As some of Mr Karzai's closest aides have been murdered in otherwise secure places across the country, Afghans have started to lose faith in the ability of their security forces to keep both themselves and government officials safe.

Afghan General Sher Mohammed, who commands a unit stationed in the south, said: "The enemy depends on assassinations now, because they cannot fight on the battlefield.

"But if the assassinations continue like this, the foreign troops will not leave," he said, referring to Nato's plans to withdraw all combat troops by 2014. "Because it will mean they did not finish their job in training and strengthening Afghan security forces."


* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse