Afghan Suicide Bombings, Tied to Taliban, Point to Pakistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, — Arrests and interrogations of suspects in a recent series of suicide bombings in Afghanistan show that the attacks have been orchestrated from Pakistan by members of the ousted Taliban government with little interference by the Pakistani authorities, Afghan officials say.
In taped interviews by an Afghan interrogator, two Afghans and three Pakistanis who were among 21 people arrested in recent weeks described their roles in the attacks, which have killed at least 70 people in the last three months, most of them Afghan civilians but also international peacekeepers, a Canadian diplomat and a dozen Afghan police officers and soldiers.
In the tape, the men described a fairly low-budget network that begins with the recruitment of young bombers in the sprawling Pakistani port city of Karachi. The bombers are moved to safe houses in the border towns of Quetta and Chaman, and then transferred into Afghanistan, where they are provided with cars and explosives and sent out to find a target.
The tape appears to confirm Afghan officials' suspicions that the suicide bombings, which are largely a recent phenomenon in Afghanistan, were generated outside Afghanistan, and in particular from neighboring Pakistan. It was shown to The New York Times by an Afghan official who asked not to be identified because of the diplomatic implications of the contents.
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, dismissed the claims of the Afghan government. "This is a propaganda campaign of the government," he said by satellite telephone from an unknown location. "Our mujahedeen don't send one group to one area so they can be found and arrested. Our mujahedeen send different people to different areas at different times."
He added that there was no need to recruit Pakistanis for the attacks. "They are all Afghans," he said of the suicide bombers.
But Afghan officials said the confessions provided the proof they needed to demand action from Pakistan. "I think there is a factory for these bombers," said Asadullah Khaled, the governor of Kandahar Province, where 15 attacks have occurred in the last three months.
President Hamid Karzai is traveling to Pakistan on Wednesday specifically to raise the issue with President Pervez Musharraf and in speeches to Parliament and officers at a military academy as well.
"If you are the ones blowing yourselves up, why are you making the explosion in front of the police headquarters, where people like you are standing in front getting passports?" Mr. Karzai said, addressing the bombers rhetorically, in a televised speech to elders from southern Afghanistan last week.
He has spoken increasingly of the need to tackle the problem at the source. Anti-Pakistan sentiment has been rising in Afghanistan, and a popular refrain is that if the hand of Pakistan were cut, the Taliban, many of whom fled over the border when they were ousted in late 2001, would be no more.
"Most of the attackers are non-Afghans," the governor of Kandahar, Mr. Khaled, said Saturday at a memorial service for 14 victims of the latest bombing. "We have proof, we have prisoners," he added. "We have addresses, we have cassettes."
Pakistani officials in the past have said the Pakistanis arrested in Afghanistan are usually illiterate laborers looking for work.
Judging by the tape, Pakistan appeared to be the base for the terror network, however. In the interviews, all of the men appeared to speak freely, some expressing regret for what they had done. Only one showed some nervousness, though the interrogations seemed relatively relaxed.
Three of the men, speaking in Urdu, said they were Pakistanis and had been recruited as bombers.
Two of the men, Akhtar Ali and Sajjad, who only gave one name, said they had been recruited by a man named Jamal, who was working for the Taliban and who owns a bookstore in Karachi. Sajjad had been staying with his brother in Karachi when Jamal showed him video cassettes in which Muslim clerics urged listeners to go and fight a holy war and earn a sure way to paradise.
"I was doing nothing, walking around, playing cricket and football," Sajjad said, adding in reference to a senior cleric: "The maulavi sahib talked to me and showed me a cassette, so I got involved. They were talking on the cassettes and telling us to do this and that, telling me to kill Americans."
Mr. Ali, who is from Karachi and who looked to be in his late 20's, said he received training to fight five years ago, when the Taliban were still in power, but never went to Afghanistan. Muslim clerics speaking on the video cassettes persuaded him to go this time, he said.
"I heard from the clerics there that if you fight jihad, you would go to paradise," he said. "There are cassettes there and they say: 'There is jihad against non-Muslims.' "
The third man, who gave his name as Abdullah, said he had come from Peshawar but was working in Karachi when recruited by a co-worker named Iqbal. "Iqbal was talking of fighting against Americans, he was talking of going to fight jihad there," Abdullah said in his interview. "I said I cannot do it. Iqbal persuaded me."
Separately the three men were sent to Quetta, they said in the tapes, and put in touch with an Afghan member of the Taliban, Abdul Hadi, who had a house in the border town of Chaman. Sajjad was on his second trip in; his first attempt was aborted when the man preparing the car in Kabul blew himself up.
Sajjad and Mr. Ali were arrested with their Afghan facilitator, Nur ul-Baqi, as they drove into Kandahar.
Abdullah, a man with a hard direct gaze, said he had been given shelter for two days in Afghanistan and provided with a car filled with explosives and two gas cylinders. "My other friend told me which button to press," he said.
He was caught by the police on the edge of Kandahar in a car laden with explosives and tried to detonate them as the police stopped him, the interrogator said on the tape. Abdullah denied that and said he had had a change of heart and stopped his car.
The interrogations also indicated that the network behind the men was made up of Afghan Taliban, many of them living in Pakistan. Mr. Baqi, the Afghan courier arrested with Mr. Ali and Sajjad, said on the tape that he had brought four would-be bombers into the country, taking them from Mr. Hadi in Chaman and delivering them to various people in Afghanistan who set them up with cars and explosives.
He said he had brought in one bomber called Imran from Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, who blew himself up on the road near the Kandahar airport. The other bomber did not go through with his attack, Mr. Baqi said.
He gave names and details of other bombers who had been taken to Kabul and one to Herat to carry out attacks, and of the Afghans who helped them. Among them were an Afghan husband-and-wife team who blew themselves up on the Jalalabad road on the east side of Kabul.
"Most of the attackers are Pakistanis; I can tell you 99 percent are Pakistani," he said. He said he had not seen any Arabs coming through.
Mr. Hadi provided the money to purchase cars, one for $2,000, Mr. Baqi said. He said he had asked Mr. Hadi several times where the money had come from. "It is coming from the sky," was the reply.
"They are getting their logistics there, so it is obvious that Pakistan is also giving them money, in my opinion," Mr. Baqi said, adding that he and the other Afghan Taliban had free movement in Pakistan. "The people who are bringing anarchy in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis don't say anything to them," he said.
Hafiz Bismillah, the last man on the tape, said he was from Panjwai district, just 30 minutes southwest of here. Wearing glasses and a white prayer cap, he was the only one who appeared jittery in his interview.
Mr. Baqi had brought Imran, the bomber, to his house, and he had stayed with them, he said. "We knew he was going to do a suicide mission," he said. "We gave him a place to stay." The police found 80 mines inside large blue plastic barrels at his house, he said.