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Afghan President Missed in Assassination; Governor Hit

Aired September 5, 2002 - 10:59   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news that we have been following for much of the hour, and that is coming out of Afghanistan. And that is a possible assassination attempt involving the president of Afghanistan, who was standing by when a gunman opened up fire in Kandahar.
Our Christiane Amanpour is in Kabul, and she has the story for us right now -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, a day of unprecedented violence, perhaps the most violent day in Afghanistan since the Taliban was routed last year. What we know from Kandahar is that the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, is there to attend the wedding of his younger brother. It appears that while he was visiting with the governor of Kandahar, shots were fired as the two were coming out of the governor's mansion.

The president, Hamid Karzai, is safe, we are told. Nobody hit him. But the governor of Kandahar did take some fire, and apparently he was wounded in the neck. He is currently being treated by U.S. Army doctors at the military base of the airport just outside of the city of Kandahar.

Hamid Karzai himself is protected by U.S. Special Forces. Those are his bodyguards. They have been protecting him for the last several months.

According to eyewitnesses there, when a person in an Afghan army uniform start to fire shots, Hamid Karzai's U.S. bodyguards sprang into action, told them to get cover, put him in the car, and the car sped off. We are told that he is safe.

This happened after a massive explosion in downtown Kabul. And it is not clear whether these two incidents are related. In Kabul earlier this afternoon, there was first a small explosion, which drew onlookers, security forces. Some minutes after that, another massive explosion, which caused heavy casualties. A security officer in charge of the security for Kabul said that it appeared that the massive car bomb; it was designed to cause maximum casualties.

And we still don't know the exact number. We know that dozens have been wounded and are being ferried to the hospitals here in Kabul. But we believe somewhere between 15 and 20 people may have been killed as well. No final casualty number has been released either by hospital or government officials.

Again, we had been told by security officials both from the government here, and the indeed from the U.S. Forces and international peacekeepers to expect incidents in the lead up to the anniversary of September 11. This is the most violent attack in Afghanistan since the Taliban was routed.

Already, Afghan security officials are blaming elements of the Taliban and al Qaeda and one factional warlord who has promised or vowed to try to fight off the U.S. and international peacekeepers who are here right now. So security has always been a concern here. And today, some of people's worst fears have been realized.

Back to you -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Christiane, I want to go back to the situation in Kandahar, where President Karzai was so close to that assassination attempt. It is not clear that he was the focus of that assassination attempt. But what is so frightening is the gunman appears to have had incredible access because he was wearing that Afghanistan military uniform, as you were pointing out.

AMANPOUR: Well, that's precisely it. Simply, we cannot say for sure who was the target, but the fact that the president was standing there and the fact that his security is paramount, and other attempts have been reported on his life -- none as close as this one, no such incident as close as this one -- makes, certainly, officials very concerned about his safety.

That is a big concern about members of the security forces, members of the various people who have joined bodyguard units and different Afghan national army units. People are concerned about the loyalty of these people and just who are joining up to join these forces. And one of these big concerns forced the United States to encourage -- or rather to force -- Hamid Karzai to accept U.S. Special Forces as his bodyguards. And they did that for a reason.

KAGAN: Probably pretty happy with that decision today.

Want to look at this governor of Kandahar, governor Sherzai. He was wounded, but it looks like he's going to be OK.

AMANPOUR: We can't say for sure, but apparently, he was taken to the American base there, which is at the airport. He was, eyewitnesses, say that he was conscious when he was there. People are saying that it does not appear to be life threatening and that he is in surgery, that he had a wound to the neck and blood was clearly visible. All we can tell you is what we are being told, but this is very clearly a worrying situation.

And just to add here, President Karzai for months has been demanding, begging, pleading for more international security forces here, not just in Kabul, but around the country: to stabilize the country, to bring the kind of security that this country needs in order to be able to make sure that these kinds of criminal and terrorist attacks do not take place. So far -- so far -- neither the U.S. nor any other country has been willing to expand the international peacekeeping force, nor put up the money, the personnel needed to put up an international peacekeeping force. But it's been very heavily on the mind of Hamid Karzai and his government for many, many months now.

KAGAN: Christiane Amanpour, in Kabul, thank you so much -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, we are going to continue following this breaking story here in the U.S. now. For an update on what the president is doing, and what he knows about this, we are going to go to Suzanne Malveaux who is with the president in Louisville, Kentucky -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president was notified upon his arrival here in Louisville, Kentucky. A White House aide telling us here -- and I am quoting -- that they are "still looking exactly to what happened here," that took place. Obviously, that the president is glad that President Karzai is safe.

Now, as you know, President Bush is expected to meet with President Karzai next week and the United Nations after the September 11 observances. They were going to be discussing the war on terror, an update on that, and of course, this is a cause for concern, a pause here for the administration realizing the kind of security that is necessary for this president, and of course, they don't want this to interfere with the war on terror. They want to make sure that Karzai is well protected. They are still trying to gather information now, and they hope that those talks will continue next week.

COOPER: Suzanne, as you know, we cannot say for certain whether or not this was an assassination attempt against the life of Hamid Karzai. The AP has reporting it was. Any indication from the White House as to whether they think this was an attempt against Karzai?

MALVEAUX: There really is no indication at this point. Really, they just want to get all of the information first. They are saying that they are just gathering pieces of information now, so they really are not in a position to comment on this. But of course, the president, a great sense of relief that Karzai is safe. They hope that they will be able to attend these talks with the United Nations some time next week. This is very important to maintain this close relationship, as you know, and as Christiane had mentioned before, about the security forces that are necessary around Karzai, a very close relationship between the United States and Karzai, making sure that they still have his support in the war on terror. They want to make sure that he is also secure as well.

Now, the president is here in Louisville, Kentucky. He is going to be going on to South Bend, Indiana later today. This is really a day of fund-raising, of campaigning. We expect the president is going to be talking about the economy, he is not going to be talking about the war on Iraq or Saddam Hussein. We expect that he is going to be focusing, really, on the fund raising aspects.

But again, the administration expressing some concern here about what has happened with President Karzai.

COOPER: All right. Suzanne Malveaux in Louisville, Kentucky. CNN will bring live any remarks made by President Bush today. He is there, as Suzanne indicated, for -- to talk about the economy with some business leaders in Louisville, also to raise money, a 51st fund raiser of this year for the Republican candidate, Ann Northop. Also CNN is efforting a live report from our own Ryan Chilcote, who is in Kandahar. We spoke on the phone with Ryan just a few short minutes ago. We are trying to bring him up live to continue the coverage of this breaking story.




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