Alleged suicide bomb plot foiled in Kabul

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A SUSPECTED suicide bomb plot to ram a car loaded with explosives into an Afghan government convoy was apparently foiled yesterday when the would-be assassin was arrested after a traffic accident.

Afghanistan’s fledgling national television service reported the arrest amid speculation that the target was the country’s US-backed president, Hamid Karzai.

Two high-ranking Afghan government ministers have been assassinated since March and concerns for Mr Karzai’s security recently led the US military to supply him with a special forces bodyguard.

The television report supplied few details, but footage of a car with its door panels apparently packed with explosives underlined fears for the security situation in Kabul. The broadcast included a picture of the suspect, a bearded young man. His dress and appearance seemed Afghan or Pakistani, but the report said the Afghan intelligence service had called him a “foreigner”.

“International terrorism once again is showing its face,” an intelligence service statement said. “The enemies of Afghanistan are not sitting quietly.”

A spokesman for the international security force in Kabul, Murat Pekgulec, a Turkish major, had no information on the case.

There are no doubts, however, about the level of insecurity in Kabul. One of Mr Karzai’s vice-presidents, Abdul Qadir, was assassinated three weeks ago by gunmen who riddled his car with bullets. The aviation and tourism minister, Abdul Rahman, was beaten to death in February at Kabul airport. There is no hint that either murder is close to being solved.

Last week, after Mr Qadir’s murder, Mr Karzai sidelined his Afghan bodyguards and called in US troops to replace them. Diplomats said the move followed “serious threats” against the president, some from within his own cabinet.

The challenges to the Karzai administration run from drug warlords to warring Pashtun and Tajik ethnic groups. But they are focused mostly on remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taleban biding their time.

US troops still searching for traces of Osama bin Laden or his al-Qaeda network are focusing their efforts on the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, close to the Pakistan border.

US officials have refused to be drawn on bin Laden’s fate – particularly rumours that he may have died. Yesterday, however, new speculation emerged on the role of bin Laden’s eldest son, Saad.

A London-based Saudi Arabian newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat, claimed that Saad had taken command of his father’s terrorist network.

The eldest, or one of the eldest, of some 20 sons bin Laden has from various wives, Saad was previously almost unknown. However, his rise “substantiates the theory that bin Laden was killed or seriously wounded” in the US military campaign in Afghanistan, the newspaper said.

US officials did not embrace the theory that Saad now leads al-Qaeda. But US officials now consider him among their top two dozen targets in al-Qaeda.

Saad bin Laden has provided cash and logistical support for several al-Qaeda operations. He is thought to be in his early twenties and reports say he has been seen in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

US officials have no evidence that Saad bin Laden played a role in the terrorist attacks on 11 September last year, but say he may have provided support for an al-Qaeda bomb attack in April on a synagogue in Tunisia. The attack left 19 people dead, most of them German tourists.

The Indian defence minister, George Fernandes, yesterday told Channel 4 that “unimpeachable sources” had told Indian intelligence that Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan, hiding out with the knowledge of the powerful Pakistani intelligence service.

The claim drew a furious denial from the Pakistani government, which accused Mr Fernandes of “talking through his hat”. The playboy defence minister has a reputation for shooting from the hip.

An Egyptian accused of funding the al Qaeda network won a British court fight yesterday against extradition to the United States after there Home Secretary, David Blunkett, decided there was not enough evidence against him.

Yasser El-Serri, a bookseller who runs a Muslim human rights group called the Islamic Observation Centre, was accused by the United States of funding al-Qaeda through the family of a man convicted of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing.

At a hearing at Bow Street magistrates court, however, Judge Timothy Workman discharged the case after Mr Blunkett ruled there was “insufficient prima facie evidence”.