Afghan leader- Killing of Cabinet minister involved senior offi

Saturday, February 16, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Prime Minister Hamid Karzai blamed senior government officials motivated by a long-standing feud for the brutal slaying of Afghanistan's aviation minister -- killed by a mob in the worst violence in the capital since his government took power.

Three people were arrested and three others were being sought Friday in Saudi Arabia. The alleged conspirators included officials in the intelligence service, justice ministry and defense ministry, said Karzai's information minister, Abdul Rahim Makhdoom.

Saudi Arabia has agreed to turn over the suspects, a senior Bush administration official said. "Mister Karzai has asked the Saudis for the return of those people immediately. And the Saudis have agreed to do so," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, speaking in an interview on PBS' "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer."

The aviation and tourism minister, Abdul Rahman, a supporter of the exiled king, was killed Thursday in what witnesses said was a mob attack on his plane at Kabul's airport by pilgrims angry over travel delays to Saudi Arabia for the annual hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Witnesses and officials said the pilgrims beat Rahman and tossed his body to the tarmac.

But Karzai said the killing had "nothing to do with" the pilgrims.

"He was killed by people who planned it," Karzai told reporters at a hastily called news conference. "We are asking the Saudis to arrest them and bring them back. ... We will try them. We will put them behind bars."

Waiting for two days

In Washington, a senior State Department official gave a different account of the killing, saying the airport riot was spontaneous. The crowd became ill-tempered after waiting for two days for documents from Saudi Arabia, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The assault occurred, he said, after the crowd learned Rahman's plane was leaving.

The official said Rahman was stabbed and not beaten, and acknowledged the man responsible for the alleged stabbing may have had political motives.

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