Associated Press WriterKANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- Fearing retribution, 13 injured Arab fighters were holed up Thursday at the city's main hospital, threatening to blow themselves up if anyone other than medical staff entered their rooms.
The captives, suspected of links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network, were wounded either by U.S. bombing or in fighting with Afghan tribal forces that took over Kandahar from the Taliban on Dec. 7.
They were brought to the Mirwais Hospital by al-Qaida a few days before the Taliban handed over their main southern stronghold to Pashtun tribal leaders and fled the city.
The Arabs have explosives tied to their waists, hospital staff said.
"They have given an ultimatum. If someone else comes in, they'll blow themselves up," Ghulam Mohammed Afghan, head nurse at Mirwais Hospital, said Thursday. "Only a few nurses are allowed to go in. Even I don't visit them."
Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's interim leader who negotiated the Kandahar surrender deal, allowed ordinary Afghan Taliban soldiers to go home. However, Arabs, Chechens, Pakistanis and other foreign fighters face imprisonment, and some could be handed over to the Americans if they are suspected of close links to bin Laden, the alleged architect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The hospital is guarded by forces loyal to Mullah Naqibullah, who helped broker the Taliban's surrender of Kandahar but has been accused of being too close to the Islamic militia.
The nearest cluster of U.S. troops on Thursday were special forces about six miles away.
Last month, some al-Qaida fighters concealed weapons and explosives when they surrendered to northern alliance forces near the northern city of Kunduz.
Hundreds of them were killed in a bloody prison uprising near Mazar-e-Sharif. An American CIA operative, Johnny "Mike" Spann, was killed before the revolt was suppressed.
The international Red Cross said Tuesday it was investigating reports that dozens of Taliban captives suffocated in shipping containers while being taken to prison in northern Afghanistan.
In the Kandahar hospital, the Arabs lie in their beds with hand grenades and other explosives strapped to them, Mohammed said.
"They don't allow anybody to see them except just those who are treating them, dressing the wounds or cleaning the rooms," he said. "They are scared and they don't want to talk about anything. It's extremely difficult for the hospital staff because they or other patients could get injured. It's dangerous."
But he said he had a duty to treat them and expected that the international Red Cross, which funds the hospital, would eventually take charge of his patients.
The Arabs, staying in three guarded rooms, have benefited for now from the lack of coherent authority in Kandahar, which rival commanders have divided among themselves.
On one occasion, the head nurse said, fighters of the new anti-Taliban governor, Gul Agha, arrived and demanded entry. Naqibullah's men turned them back.
There is a "no weapons" symbol -- an automatic rifle in a red circle with a bar through the middle -- at the hospital entrance, but it is widely ignored.
Gunmen wandered around the parking lot, and one fighter in a ward corridor diffidently concealed his Kalashnikov rifle under his cloak. The muzzle protruded.
Mohammed did not even pause at half a dozen gunshots outside as he explained the quandary with his Arab patients. Several of his office windows were broken by U.S. bombing.