Afghan fugitives, fighters threaten suicide attacks

Friday, September 27, 2002

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Taliban fugitives and Afghan fighters loyal to a former foe have allied and are getting arms and money from al-Qaida and Iran for planned suicide attacks on American troops in Afghanistan, one of their leaders says.

The new alliance is said to be based in eastern Afghanistan and involves men led by several former high Taliban officials and fighters of Hezb-e-Islami, a group headed by former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Hekmatyar's force was one of the U.S.-aided guerrilla armies that fought the Soviets in the 1980s. He fled to Iran in 1996 after his group was defeated by the Taliban, but he has recently been seeking to incite a "holy war" against American forces in Afghanistan.

The new alliance is known as Lashkar Fedayan-e-Islami, or the Islamic Martyrs Brigade, a Hekmatyar military commander, Salauddin Safi, told the Associated Press at a secret meeting Wednesday in Peshawar.

"There will be suicide attacks, ambushes by suicide attackers and bomb blasts against soldiers as they are moving from place to place and when they go out and disperse into smaller numbers, like in searches," he said.

The threat comes against a backdrop of unsolved bombings in Afghan cities, and there already have been sporadic attacks on U.S. military posts as well as on American troops patrolling the countryside.

Safi said the alliance plans to attack only American military targets. He said the group had nothing to do with a Sept. 5 car bombing that killed 30 people and wounded more than 150 in Kabul, the capital.

Western intelligence sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed there is an alliance between the Taliban and Hekmatyar. They also said they believe the alliance is receiving money from a variety of sources, including the al-Qaida terror network and Iran.

However, neither Western nor Pakistani intelligence sources could confirm the existence of the new group or the formation of suicide bombing squads.

Safi said the alliance's fighters are from the Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami. "Al-Qaida is not helping with men, but with money," he said.

Iran also "is helping with money and weapons," Safi said. "Iran needs Hekmatyar because Iran is an enemy of the United States and Hekmatyar is too."

Safi wouldn't give any specifics about the types of weapons or amounts of money.

At a U.S. military base called Camp Salerno in southeastern Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Martin Schweitzer said they were aware of Hekmatyar and the threat posed by his loyalists and the Taliban.

"Bring it on," Schweitzer said. "We're more than ready to handle any of the threats that are out there."

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