Official says bin Laden ordered opposition leader’s assassination

KABUL, Afghanistan – Osama bin Laden personally ordered the assassination of Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massood days before the Sept. 11 attacks, a senior ex-Taliban official has said, the first time a Taliban insider has discussed the terrorist mastermind’s role.

Massood, military chief of the Northern Alliance, was mortally wounded Sept. 9 when two suicide attackers posing as television reporters detonated a bomb during an interview in Khodja Bahauddin, in Takhar province.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Mullah Moham-med Khaksar, the former Taliban deputy interior minister, said bin Laden had ordered two suicide bombers diverted from a trip to Indonesia and sent them on the mission.

Khaksar said that on Sept. 9 he had gone to the home of Taliban Interior Minister Abdul Razzak to pay respects for the death of Razzak’s father. Razzak, who has eluded capture by the U.S.-led coalition, had contacts with bin Laden, and two Saudis that Khaksar believed to be al-Qaida members were at the wake.

Khaksar said the two Saudis, whom he did not identify, told him of bin Laden’s role and assured him that Massood was dead.

”They said ‘no, believe me he is gone,”’ Khaksar said, referring to Massood. ”They also said that he was killed by two Arabs who were supposed to go to Indonesia but were ordered to go to Massood and kill him. The order came from Osama. He canceled their trip to Indonesia.”

The United States has said it believes bin Laden had foreknowledge of the plot to kill Massood, but has not said what level of involvement he had in the plot.

There has been wide speculation that bin Laden may have killed Massood to ingratiate himself further with Taliban leader Mohammed Omar to ensure his protection if the Americans retaliated for the attacks he knew were only days away in the United States. But this is the first time a member of the Taliban has discussed bin Laden’s role in the killing.

Khaksar said bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, were among the mourners for Razzak’s father, but they met the Taliban minister separately at a mansion on the grounds of the royal palace.

Although Sept. 11 was only two days away, Khaksar said no one at the wake spoke of anything unusual in the works. All of the talk had to do with the death of Massood, the Taliban’s mortal enemy.

”No one talked about Sept. 11 or said that anything was going to happen,” Khaksar said in an interview. ”I think that it was so secret that no one knew.”

Khaksar, who broke with the Taliban after the fall of Kabul in November, said the Taliban leadership was convinced bin Laden was behind the Sept. 11 attacks. At the time, he said, al-Qaida seemed invincible.

”Their morale was high,” Khaksar said. ”They believed Osama was strong because the world was afraid of him.”

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