- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2001

PANJSHIR VALLEY, Afghanistan Ahmed Shah Masood, the opposition commander who was the last bulwark against the Taliban militia's plans to control all Afghanistan, died yesterday from wounds inflicted in a suicide bomb attack, officials said.
Ending a week of claim and counterclaim about the veteran commander's condition, Mr. Masood was confirmed dead by ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who described him as a "national hero."
"Masood was martyred in a conspiracy involving Pakistan, the terrorist group of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban," Mr. Rabbani said in a message read by his spokesman, Engineer Beryalai.
"He was a national hero of the Afghan jihad [holy war] and resistance. He was a symbol of resistance and jihad for the past 30 years [and a] thorn in the eyes of Afghanistan's enemies."
The fate of the ethnic-Tajik fighter, who was 49, had been shrouded in mystery since the suicide bomb attack earlier this month by two Arabs posing as journalists during an "interview" in northern Afghanistan.
There had been widespread reports of Mr. Masood's death in the days since, which opposition sources had vehemently denied.
But Mr. Rabbani's spokesman said Mr. Masood succumbed to his wounds at 10 a.m. yesterday in a hospital in northern Afghanistan. He was expected to be buried today in his native Panjshir, an official with the exiled government said.
"Tomorrow, maybe, the funeral will be held, and it is likely to be here in Panjshir," the official told journalists in Malaspa, 75 miles northeast of the capital, Kabul.
With the Taliban and their Saudi-born ally, bin Laden, accused of complicity, there has been inevitable speculation linking the bombing to Tuesday's terrorist attacks in the United States.
In the concluding years of his life, Mr. Masood was seen as the last obstacle to the Taliban gaining control of the remaining 10 percent of Afghanistan not in its hands.
The rest was controlled by a north-based opposition alliance led by Mr. Masood, a loose and fractious patchwork of factions riven by ethnic and sectarian divisions.
As Mr. Masood's supporters prepared to bury him, alliance leaders met to discuss the situation after his death, officials said.
Field commanders and political leaders, including Mr. Rabbani, attended the gathering, which comes ahead of possible U.S. military reprisals against Taliban-held Afghanistan.
Known as the "Lion of Panjshir" for his resistance against the 1979-89 Soviet invasion, the commander went from mujahideen guerrilla leader to defense minister and back to guerrilla leader again.
During the jihad against the Soviets, he fought off more than a dozen Red Army offensives in his native Panjshir Valley, a strategic supply route running northeast of Kabul.
After the Soviet pullout, he became Mr. Rabbani's defense minister in 1992 before resigning a year later under a power-sharing deal with rival warlords.
The arrangement proved disastrous for the government and the people of Afghanistan as Kabul quickly descended into civil war.
The sudden arrival of the fundamentalist Taliban militia in 1996 galvanized the warring factions into a loose opposition alliance that retreated to its northern strongholds.
Mr. Masood had suffered military setbacks since 1996 and his area of control was steadily shrinking, but he remained the most powerful opposition commander in Afghanistan and the only serious military threat to the Taliban.

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