- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan The Taliban said yesterday they had captured and executed the legendary anti-Soviet mujahideen commander Abdul Haq, who was on a secret mission inside Afghanistan to persuade tribal leaders to abandon the Taliban and help form a new government.
The death, which was confirmed by Mr. Haq's family late yesterday, marks a major setback for U.S. hopes of ousting the Taliban, because Mr. Haq, in the weeks since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, had actively campaigned for a new Afghan government centering on the exiled Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah.
Not a member of the opposition Northern Alliance, Mr. Haq was considered key to persuading moderate Pashtun tribal leaders to abandon the Taliban. He was against the U.S. air strikes, saying they would make defections more difficult.
Mullah Ameer Khan Mutaqi, the main Taliban spokesman, said Mr. Haq had been "executed on charges of spying."
Mullah Mutaqi also claimed that when captured, Mr. Haq was in contact with U.S. forces, which attempted to provide air cover by helicopter and rescue Mr. Haq after his party was surrounded.
The Pentagon yesterday denied any knowledge of an attempted rescue mission.
Mr. Haq's family said he entered Afghanistan on Sunday, with eight other men, to seek a political solution to the crisis that sparked the U.S.-led bombing campaign, now in its third week.
"They were on a mission of peace," Mr. Haq's elder brother, Deen Mohammed, told reporters in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar.
Mr. Haq, who lost a foot fighting the Soviets near Kabul, worked closely with the United States in the 1980s. He was one of the first commanders to be given shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, a weapon that turned the war against the Soviets.
In recent weeks, he had boasted that he could win support from enough tribal leaders in eastern Afghanistan to topple the Taliban. But he had also warned that the U.S. air campaign was a mistake that would only solidify wavering support for the defiant Islamic regime.
The Taliban spokesman said Mr. Haq was captured early yesterday morning after a brief firefight in a village near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, and was executed on the orders of the supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, after noon prayers.
"The Taliban have killed Abdul Haq along with two other people," an Information Ministry official, Abdul Himat Hanan, told the Reuters news agency in Kabul.
"This happened on the basis of the verdict of the [Muslim clerics] that anyone who assists the United States is liable to be killed."
Reports of Mr. Haq's death come more than six weeks after the assassination of another anti-Soviet fighter, Ahmad Shah Masood, who was killed by suicide bombers posing as Arab journalists just days before the terrorist attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
The Taliban account of yesterday's events claimed that Mr. Haq attempted to flee under the cover of fire from a U.S. helicopter.
"This bombing was to help Abdul Haq escape," Mullah Mutaqi said.
Reflecting the confusing accounts from Afghanistan throughout the day, he said that shortly after Mr. Haq's capture with four other men, the Taliban captured 50 of his fellow fighters along with a horse, jeep and satellite phone.
Elsewhere, U.S. jets struck a Kabul fuel depot after night fell, igniting a fireball that cast an orange glow over the darkened city.
One of the blasts struck a compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross for the second time this month, Red Cross officials said. The compound was hit during an attack Oct. 16.
Late yesterday, the U.S. Department of Defense acknowledged the attack, calling it an "inadvertent" bombing.
Two U.S. Navy F/A-18C Hornet jets each dropped one 2,000-pound bomb on ICRC warehouses Thursday evening, a statement by U.S. Central Command said.
At about the same time, a 500-pound bomb "inadvertently" hit a residential area about 700 feet south of the warehouses, apparently because the bomb's guidance system malfunctioned, Central Command said.
Early yesterday, two B-52 bombers also dropped three 2,000-pound bombs on the same warehouse complex, the statement said.
"The U.S. sincerely regrets this inadvertent strike on the ICRC warehouses and the residential area," the statement said.
In Pakistan, tens of thousands of people marched peacefully through the middle of Karachi to protest the bombing and the support of Pakistan's government for the United States.
Despite days of U.S. bombing aimed at crucial supply lines north of Kabul, Taliban forces appeared to hold their ground against the opposition Northern Alliance. Opposition commanders complained the attacks were too weak.
In Rome, Hamid Sidiq, a spokesman for the former king, told the Associated Press: "Commander Haq was on a mission for peace, not for war. He was not going to fight anyone, but to talk to tribal elders to inform them about the peace initiative of his majesty, the king."
But Taliban intelligence chief Qari Ahmad used yesterday's execution to send a chilling message to other Afghan exiles in Pakistan who are contemplating a similar mission.
"We have established spying networks in every state and district of Afghanistan, and we challenge anybody to get through it," Mr. Ahmad said.
He also said that Afghan spies had Mr. Haq under surveillance in Pakistan and that he was being followed from the moment he entered Afghanistan.
"We are ready for every kind of attack," Mr. Ahmad said.

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