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Key Afghan opposition leader reportedly executed

Abdul Haq
Abdul Haq  

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman and an independent source said that the Taliban executed key opposition leader Abdul Haq in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Friday.

State Department officials say that U.S. diplomats in the region have confirmed that Haq was captured by Taliban forces, but are not sure if Haq is alive or dead.

The Taliban official said Haq, a former mujahedeen commander who was reportedly on a peace mission in Afghanistan when he was arrested, had two satellite phones and U.S. currency on him.

According to an independent, non-Taliban source in Pakistan, the Taliban convicted Haq and two associates of spying for the United States in a brief trial Friday afternoon. After their sentences were read, all three were executed.

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The Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman said a nephew of Haq and another anti-Taliban commander, Haji Dawran, were the other men executed.

One of the State Department sources said Haq "was not working for us." The Bush administration was aware that Haq had been working on behalf of Pashtuns to "forge an alternative government" to the Taliban.

"He is a prominent player," said one State Department official.

A former U.S. government official who helped Haq arrange and finance his return to Afghanistan told CNN that Haq's trip was coordinated with U.S. intelligence agencies as part of the effort to improve the fighting capabilities and coordination of opposition forces. He was also asked to try to persuade some Taliban forces to lay down their arms or defect to the opposition.

An adviser to the exiled Afghan king in Italy said Haq was in Afghanistan "to implement the peace and the steps we created here in Rome for a peace mission in Afghanistan.

"We knew that his mission was a peace mission, he did not go to Afghanistan to fight," said Abdul Sattar Sirat, an adviser to exiled Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah. "He was part of His Majesty the King's peace proposal and he went there to contact with the tribal leaders."

Sirat said the exiled king, who lives in Rome, was "shocked" at the news of Haq's arrest, which he received from contacts in Peshawar.

The Taliban have warned that anyone showing support for the former king could face death.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported that U.S. helicopters attacked Taliban troops attempting to arrest Haq. In a Pentagon briefing Friday, U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said he had no information on whether U.S. forces participated in any kind of rescue operation involving Haq, saying the Pentagon had not confirmed whether Haq was captured or executed.

Stufflebeem declined to comment on what kind of effect Haq's death would have on attempts to remove the Taliban from power. "I know [Haq] was very well-respected," he said.

Haq's brother, Hajid bin Mohammad, told reporters Friday that his brother "had no arms and he was not prepared for any battle" when he and the six or seven others he was traveling with were "attacked by the Taliban without any provocation." A source said one of Haq's business associates also was arrested.

Bin Mohammed said his brother was moved to Jalalabad after his arrest Friday night. Abdul Haq traveled to Afghanistan on Sunday, the brother said.

Haq wanted to create anti-Taliban coalition

On a related matter, the State Department has confirmed reports that another prominent Afghan opposition leader, Hamid Karzai, head of the Popalzai tribe in Afghanistan, is operating in that country.

"We know he's in Afghanistan," said another State Department official, "because his brother told us." Karzai's brother runs a large Afghan restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland, and has been in close touch with the Bush administration.

In a recent interview with CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon, Haq said he was not interested in fighting the Taliban, but he was trying to build a political coalition to bring down the regime.

He also said he did not support U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan.

"I'm telling you from now, if they use troops ... they send ground troops, I'm telling you that would be a big disaster for the peace in the country, and that they would push the whole nation into Taliban hands," Haq said.

Haq, an ethnic Pashtun, was one of several key mujahedeen commanders during the Afghan war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and was wounded several times. He split with the Taliban, who are predominately Pashtun, in the early 1990s and went into exile.

In 1999, after his decision to oppose the Taliban, his wife, 11-year-old son and a bodyguard were murdered in Peshawar.

Since the September 11 terror attacks, the former Afghan king has met with a U.S. delegation and other international officials to discuss building a coalition to replace the Taliban, if the regime is forced from power by the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign.

Last month, Zahir announced anti-Taliban groups have created a Supreme Council for the Salvation of Afghanistan. They have also created a military structure operating within Afghanistan with the participation of various resistance commanders and tribal elders and some professional army officers, the former king said.

-- CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon and Nic Robertson contributed to this report


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