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Apparent executions at northern fortress

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Associated Press WriterKABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Taliban said Wednesday that their supreme leader was safe after U.S. airstrikes on a Taliban "leadership area." At a northern fortress where pro-Taliban foreigners were killed in a prison mutiny, bodies of dozens of foreign fighters were seen with their arms tied behind their backs.

Red Cross workers removed bodies from the corpse-strewn complex near Mazar-e-Sharif where the three-day mutiny by foreign fighters loyal to Osama bin Laden was put down Tuesday. Gen. Rashid Dostum, the northern alliance commander who controls the area, warned journalists to stay away from the southern section of the fort where he said dangerous pro-Taliban fighters could still be alive among the corpses.

An Associated Press photographer who wandered into the southern sector saw a field with about 50 bodies laid out. Black scarves bound their arms, and alliance fighters were cutting the bonds from the bodies with knives and scissors. At least one fighter pried gold fillings from a corpse.

The foreigners were brought to the fortress last weekend after the surrender of the northern Taliban stronghold of Kunduz. Wandering through the carnage inside the fort in a flowing brown robe and a black leather jacket, Dostum denied his men had committed any atrocities.

"We behaved brotherly with them," Dostum said. "We treated prisoners according to human rights."

The fall of Kunduz removed the last major Taliban stronghold in the north, focusing attention on the Islamic militia's remaining bastion in the south, where U.S. Marines established a foreign base Sunday night outside of Kandahar.

On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon ordered airstrikes Tuesday against a compound near Kandahar after learning that it was being used by senior leaders of the Taliban, al-Qaida and Wafa, a Saudi humanitarian group that was among several groups named by the United States as aiding bin Laden and his network.

U.S. F-16 jets and B-1B bombers attacked two targets with precision-guided weapons, military officials said.

Pentagon officials didn't say who may have been in the compound, but Rumsfeld said was clearly "a leadership area."

"Whoever was there is going to wish they weren't," he said.

The former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salaam Zaeef, insisted no top Taliban officials were in the compound at the time of the attack.

He told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press that the airstrikes targeted the house of a local Taliban leader in Kandahar's Dand area and not an al-Qaida base. He gave no details of casualties.

Zaeef said Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar "is safe and sound. He hasn't been hurt, nor any other Taliban leader."

President Bush launched military operations Oct. 7 against Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to surrender bin Laden for his role in the September terrorist attacks that killed 3,600 people in the United States.

At the fortress near Mazar-e-Sharif, Red Cross workers wearing rubber gloves loaded corpses onto trailers to remove them for burial. Most of the prisoners were believed to have been Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs and other non-Afghans who came to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban.

They surrendered last weekend outside Kunduz and were brought to the fortress. Once inside, they reportedly stormed the armory Sunday, seized weapons and battled their captors for three days despite U.S. airstrikes and intense fire from the northern alliance.

By Wednesday, fighting had stopped and the alliance said only a handful of holdouts might have survived.

Shabudin, a northern alliance fighter, said his comrades had been tying the hands of some Taliban fighters believed to be Arabs when the uprising began Sunday. But Gen. Dostum denied his forces had restrained the prisoners. "We did not tie them. We brought them here to be safer," he said.

Amnesty International called Tuesday for an inquiry into the uprising and the "proportionality of the response" by the northern alliance and U.S. and British military personnel at the uprising.

The inquiry "should make urgent recommendations to ensure that other instances of surrender and holding of prisoners do not lead to similar disorders and loss of life," the London-based human rights organization said Tuesday.

In all, alliance officials have said some 450 prisoners were killed, as were 30 to 50 alliance troops. Five Americans were wounded by "friendly fire" and a CIA agent was missing in the fighting.

Meanwhile, representatives of four Afghan factions met for a second day Wednesday near Bonn, Germany, to map plans for a new, multiethnic government for Afghanistan. James F. Dobbins, the U.S. Central Asia envoy, called the first day of talks a positive start.


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