- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai asserted yesterday that Afghanistan is not descending into chaos and lawlessness even as police rounded up 17 persons for questioning in the attempt on his life.

Mr. Karzai said the assassination attempt and a bombing at a crowded marketplace on Thursday were “done by terrorists in an isolated manner.”

“This means they are no longer capable of mobilizing as groups, so they act as individuals,” he said.

The death toll in Thursday's bombing in Kabul rose to 30, and another 167 were injured, said the health minister, Dr. Sohaila Siddiqi. It was the deadliest act of violence since the Taliban fled the city in November after American air strikes.

Mr. Karzai pledged to continue rebuilding the country despite the violence.

“I've been through this before,” Mr. Karzai told reporters. “My father was assassinated by the Taliban, by terrorists. Did that stop me from fighting against them? I will not stop. I will continue.”

Still, he promised to be more careful about his personal security. “I will not be as reckless as I am.”

The president returned to Kabul from Kandahar early yesterday, and in a show of business-as-usual, met Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. They negotiated a supply of aircraft, military transport and communications equipment for Afghanistan's new national army.

It remained unclear who was behind Thursday's attacks and whether they were coordinated. Afghan officials speculated the attacks could have been orchestrated by Taliban or al Qaeda fugitives or by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is purportedly trying to forge a new alliance with both groups.

In Washington, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said some evidence points to the Taliban as the likely perpetrators of the attack and the assassination attempt.

“We do have some evidence from a variety of sources that it was likely it could have been the Taliban. We do not know for certain,” Agence France-Presse quoted her as saying.

Officials in Kabul said at least two suspects have been detained for questioning after they were linked to the taxi carrying the bomb.

In Kandahar, Khalid Pashtoon, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said 17 persons all security guards for the provincial government were being questioned in connection with the attempt on Mr. Karzai's life.

The gunman, Abdul Rahman, was hired about two weeks ago as a security guard. He was given clearance to carry a weapon near important government officials, police said.

Kandahar's police chief, Gen. Mohammed Akram, said Rahman, 22, was from Helmand, a southern province in the country's Pashtun heartland known for Taliban sympathies. He was shot dead by Mr. Karzai's American bodyguards after he fired on the president's car outside the palace of Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha.

An Afghan bodyguard for Mr. Karzai and a bystander both carrying weapons were also killed. Mr. Agha was grazed in the neck by the gunman's bullet.

Mr. Pashtoon said Rahman had been hired despite a prohibition against new guards. He said the screening process for applicants would be overhauled.

In Kabul, some residents expressed fear that Thursday's violence could signal renewed conflict in a city longing for peace. Small bombs have exploded in Kabul almost daily for several weeks, but Thursday's was the first to cause multiple casualties.

“We are not sure of the future. There has been so much destruction in Kabul in my lifetime,” said Habibullah, 37, who owns a store that sells watches and clocks near the site of Thursday's blast.

The explosion blew out windows and display cases in his store and caused more than $1,000 in damage a huge sum in Afghanistan.

“Maybe it will continue. This will not be the end,” he said.

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