Monday, November 19, 2001

JALALABAD, Afghanistan Looters have carried off almost everything of value from the football field-sized fortress that was the summer residence of Osama bin Laden, the presumed mastermind of the September 11 atrocities.
Five armed men yesterday were taking what little of value remained two canvas tents, a toy truck and a bag of rice. “We’re protecting this place,” one of them claimed.
Brick walls covered with mud divide the compound known to residents as “Osama house” into apartments for visitors and barracks for bodyguards.
What served as bin Laden’s own bedroom and study is a modest one-room concrete structure with a wall fan and a shelf full of books written in Arabic.
Other apartments facing the same courtyard may have housed his three wives and numerous children. In the dust outside lie the partially used remains of a month’s supply of birth-control pills.
The Taliban brought bin Laden to Afghanistan as a guest and he, in turn, brought thousands of Arabs, along with Muslim guerrillas from Chechnya, Somalia and Pakistan to train as fighters for his al Qaeda terror network in this northeastern province.
Until three weeks before the start of the U.S. bombing campaign on Oct. 7, locals say bin Laden plotted his strategy from this compound and the governor’s palace in Jalalabad.
Within a 20-minute drive from the city lie at least six al Qaeda training camps, where abandoned test tubes and manuals written in Arabic and Pashto offer evidence of chemical and biological warfare experiments.
At least four of the hijackers who flew planes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center are known to have been at the camps.
Boxes of live machine-gun shells and pieces of hardware too big to carry away testify to the terrorists’ hurried exit when the same Pashtun tribal leaders who had made them welcome switched sides and drove them out without a fight last week.
An estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Arab fighters are said to be holed up on a mountain about a three-hour drive away.
“They live in mountains and caves. If I was to take you there, they would kill us all,” said Amanullah Miakhil, 22, an engineering student who doubles as a guide.
Some residents believe bin Laden may come back to the region to hide and try to organize guerrilla resistance to whatever new government takes shape in Kabul.
But Abdul Qadeer, who returned from exile last week and was quickly installed as governor of surrounding Nangarhar Province, was noncommittal when reporters asked whether he would help find the terrorist mastermind.
“I’m against any terrorism,” he told reporters. “At the moment, I do not know any information on his location.”
Residents speak of the swaggering arrogance of bin Laden’s Arab fighters, whose abandoned living areas yesterday were occupied only by grazing goats and sheep.
They drove shiny new land cruisers while terrorizing shopkeepers and bullying locals, who dared not complain.
“No one would ever agree to live with the Arabs because they acted like rulers instead of guests. But what else could we do?” asked Mohammad Nadir Saddiguee, 25, whose apartment building was rented by Arabs.
Mr. Saddiguee yesterday was still cleaning the mess left by angry residents who looted the apartments when the Arabs left after two weeks of U.S. bombing.
With the Taliban finished in Afghanistan, bin Laden and his Arab fighters have lost their hold on the people.
Over the weekend, the province’s tribal warlords chose a governor and two co-commanders of “peace and security” in a bid to form an elusive Pashtun alliance and to keep their private militias from shooting at each other.
The tribal election, while affecting only the province surrounding Jalalabad, marked the most ambitious attempt yet by Pashtuns to form their own bloc to compete with the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance for influence. A delegation from the alliance arrived Saturday night to begin negotiations with the new government.
Sixty tribal leaders, clerics and military commanders spent three days in the carpeted banquet room of the governor’s mansion deciding who would fill dozens of posts that were vacated when the Taliban fled last week.
“There may be some differences among us, but our first priority is to make our country stable,” conference organizer Qazi Amin Waqad told his turbaned assembly.
Organizers hope to establish a Pashtun federation in eastern and southern Afghanistan.
Of more immediate concern, however, the election sought to end a chaotic and sometimes tense standoff between three militias, which remained camped on the front lawn of the governor’s mansion for the entire three-day session.
“Every day, more and more mujahideen come to join their groups. I’ve never seen so many guns,” said one taxi driver.
By Saturday night, the fighters had drifted away, some heading back to remote areas and others to serve as provincial police.

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