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Reports Afghan Opposition Figure Abdul Haq Killed by Taliban

Aired October 26, 2001 - 08:31   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news to report for you this morning, that Afghan opposition figure Abdul Haq was killed in a shootout with Taliban soldiers, the Taliban's Baktar (ph) news agency is reporting this morning, as well as the Associated Press confirming.

Let's quickly turn to "Time" magazine's Joshua Cooper Ramo for some insight on that. This is bad news for coalition.

JOSHUA COOPER RAMO, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Yes, it's tremendously bad news, first of all, because Haq was a leading figure in the effort to find what a post-Taliban government would look like, but there is a second reason it is important. The U.S. strategy for building a post- Taliban regime in Afghanistan has been to send people into the country, into Afghanistan, to try and buy off local warlords, to try and convince folks that it's smarter to throw in their lot with the opposition than with Taliban.

Part of that strategy involved the very dangerous approach of sensing people into country, well funded sometimes, to buy these people off, or to try to use their personal charisma to try and encourage them to switch sides. That's the kind of that Haq was on, about 20 miles north of Kabul, when yesterday, there was rumor he might have been captured, and now we find out this morning it turns out, it seems that he was killed in a hail of bullets during a gunfight with some Taliban militia. That complicates things, not only because it removes Haq, who was a charismatic leader with a long leader in the Afghan resistance, but makes it even more difficult I think probably for the U.S. to continue to send people in on this campaign of bribing and persuasion. It's something we are going to have to continue to do, because it's only way to build a post-Taliban government.

ZAHN: What was he trying to do? He had a message from the exiled king? That is what...

RAMO: Yes, he was sending a message from the exiled king, but more importantly, a lot of these guys who run these local enclaves inside Afghanistan, these warlords, have known each other for 20 or 30 years. I mean, they fought the Soviets together, and now they are sort of trying to figure out what they want to do. A guy like Abdul Haq is sort of like a massive political figure, and so to have him going town to town, meeting with the chieftains, trying to convince them throw in their lots, with what had been their enemy, was a superimportant mission. It was obviously a much more dangerous mission than anybody anticipated.

ZAHN: Once again, Joshua Cooper Ramo, thank you. The confirmation that Afghan opposition leader Abul Haq was killed in a shootout with Taliban soldiers. We will continue to follow that story and its impact throughout the day.

Now, some of the other latest developments to talk about at this hour: a new anthrax scare at New York's main post office, reports that anthrax, was found on four sorting machines, but that facility remains open. In the Washington area, traces of the bacteria are found at a CIA mail sorting facility in Virginia, a mail room at the Walter Reed Army Research Institute in Maryland, and a State Department mail facility in Virginia are also being tested. Britain will contribute ground troops to the war against terrorism. London is assigning 200 Marine commandos to support the U.S.-led attacks in Afghanistan.

And President bush will sign a bill this morning giving law enforcement new antiterrorism powers. Congress gave measure final approval yesterday.

The FBI has tested a New Jersey apartment for signs of anthrax. Two Indian men lived there. The FBI thinks the two may have been involved in the hijacking plot. "The New York Times" reports Ayub Ali Khan and Mohammed Jaweed Azmath had shaved most of the hair on their bodies, meaning that this would be preparation for their meeting with Allah. The FBI had recovered letters that instructs some of the suspected hijackers to shave excess hair from the body as they prepared for the suicide hijacking missions. The two men had flown out of Newark on the morning of the hijackings. They were arrested the next day on an Amtrak train in Texas. Khan and Azmath are both jailed in New York. They are among hundreds of detainees who remain jailed in connection with the attacks.

Here is Brian Cabell.


BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Since September 11, nearly 1,000 suspects have been detained the government says. Most are presumed to be men of Middle Eastern descent, but the government is not releasing names, nor their attorneys's names. Everything is secret.

Only a few of the detainees including, Mohamed Jaweed Azmath and Ayub Ali Khan, who were arrested with box cutters, hair dye and large sums of cash the day after the attacks have had their names and photographs released.

Some are being held as material witnesses, those with important information about the terrorist attacks. None has yet been charged with complicity.

One hundred and sixty eight have been detained for immigration violations, such as having expired visas. And the remainder of 1,000 were arrested for violating state and local laws, for example, in at least two cases, selling fake ID cards. Many of the detainees including 23-year-Azid Al-Sami (ph) have been released after extensive interrogations. Al-Sami spent 18 days locked up, but was never charged with a crime.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: If suspects are found not to have links to terrorism, or they have not violated the law, they are released.

CABELL: But the government refuses to say how many of the 1,000 detained have been released, nor will it disclose where they are being held. It is believed several hundred have been brought to the Metropolitan Correction Center in New York, just a few blocks from ground zero.

Brian Cabell, CNN, Atlanta.


ZAHN: All right, we've got more breaking news to share with you now. We know that Reuters News Agency and Associated Press is reporting that Afghan opposition leader Abdul Haq was killed.

Let's turn to Rebecca MacKinnon, who joins us from Peshawar, Pakistan with a conflicting account.

What are you being told, Rebecca?

REBECCA MACKINNON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here in Peshawar, I just spoke to a family member of Abdul Haq. His nephew, who also acts as his secretary, who said that he felt fairly confident that Abdul Haq is still alive, that he is in captivity and has not been killed, despite this fact that the Taliban has been claiming that he was executed. So at this point, exactly what the reality is, I think, is not entirely clear. I think one should keep in mind that there have been Taliban claims made in the past, that U.S. service people had been killed when the U.S. insisted that no such situation had occurred.

So right now, we have news from one source from the Taliban. There has been no other source confirming this, at the moment, and his family still not aware and not believing that it's true.

ZAHN: Rebecca, how important is Abdul Haq to the Northern Alliance?

MACKINNON: Well, Abdul Haq is not a member of the Northern Alliance. Abdul Haq is a member of another sort of alliance, of opposition, anti-Taliban opposition who are here on the eastern side of Afghanistan. It is important to remember that the opposition to the Taliban is not only in the Northern Alliance. There is a large coalition here in Pakistan in the border areas, of exiled commanders, who have ties inside Afghanistan, people who do want to see regime change inside Afghanistan.

Abdul Haq has been working for over the past month, since the airstrikes began, on trying to put together an anti-Taliban coalition, to try and bring about the political fall of the Taliban. He had actually been quite upset that United States was conducting airstrikes, so politically, among the southern and eastern groups, among the ethnic Pashtuns, Abdul Haq is one of several key figures. The Pashtuns of course make up majority ethnic group inside Afghanistan, and the Northern Alliance being composed largely of Uzbeks, Tajiks and other minorities.

Back to you.

ZAHN: All right, Rebecca MacKinnon, thanks so much for that update.

Joshua, quickly, in fact, though, Abdul Haq was perceived as playing a very important role, was he not, with the Northern Alliance to come up with legitimate government if the Taliban falls. Deconstruct the reporting very quickly for us. Now we know, obviously, the source of this news, the Taliban. What percentage should we take seriously, like about this much?

RAMO: One thing that is important is that the family believes he is still in captivity, and that may mean he is in fact in Taliban control in Kabul, which is a potentially dangerous situation in its own right. If he is detained there, it means he is off the table as a player to try and build any kind of post-Taliban regime, at least in the short term.

ZAHN: All right, so once again, Reuters and the Associated Press reporting that Afghan opposition leader Abdul Haq has been killed. Our Rebecca MacKinnon saying family members, particularly a nephew who works as a secretary for Abdul Haq says he in fact is alive and being held in captivity by the Taliban.




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