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Mystery of Envoy's Slaying in Kabul May Yield Secrets : Afghanistan: President offers an open inquiry into 1979 kidnap-murder of U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs.

March 28, 1992|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KABUL, Afghanistan — It was a typically icy February morning here in the Afghan capital that day, when what appeared to be a routine traffic stop suddenly became a kidnap-murder that sent shock waves around the world.

The snow was packed deep on the peaks of the Hindu Kush all around, and the morning traffic, as always, was snarled around the downtown intersection between the U.S. Cultural Center and the headquarters of the Soviet-style Afghan secret police.

To all appearances, the three uniformed men who approached the black Chevrolet, stopped in a no-parking zone outside the cultural center, were Kabul traffic policemen. But within seconds, it became clear that there was nothing routine about the encounter.

As the driver rolled down his window, the three men burst into the car, jammed a pistol into the back of his head and ordered him to drive to the government-owned Kabul Hotel, 2 miles away. There, they dragged out the car's passenger, a 58-year-old American wearing a dark business suit. Joined by a fourth accomplice, the kidnapers pushed the American through the hotel doors, across the lobby and into a small telephone room. There, they placed the first of many calls to the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

"We've got the ambassador," one of the kidnapers said calmly into the telephone, as the others fired shots in the air to clear the lobby.

Their hostage was, indeed, Adolph (Spike) Dubs, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

Precisely what happened in the next three hours is unknown. But by the time it was over, dozens of Afghan commandos--under the orders of Foreign Minister Hafizullah Amin and with the apparent counsel of the Soviet KGB--had stormed the hotel in a guns-blazing "rescue attempt," leaving Dubs dead in Room 117 of the cavernous hotel. And by the end of the day, all four kidnapers, whom the government identified only as terrorists, had met the same fate.

It happened more than 13 years ago, just after noon Feb. 14, 1979--an event that would set in motion a rapid series of coups and countercoups, diplomatic intrigues and Cold War posturing that ultimately would push this strategic Central Asian nation firmly into Soviet hands, pave the way for the Soviet invasion less than a year later and help spark a continuing civil war that has left more than a million dead.

Today, in the wreckage of that mass bloodletting, much of the uncertainty surrounding the kidnaping and murder of Adolph Dubs, a respected Soviet expert whose mission was to draw Afghanistan away from its growing brotherhood with Moscow, remains as deep as ever.

But now, as the once pro-Soviet regime of Afghan President Najibullah teeters on the brink of disintegration, a new window has opened on the case that remains one of the State Department's greatest unsolved mysteries:

Who killed Spike Dubs?

For the first time since his murder, the Afghan regime has offered to officially reopen the case.

In a recent interview with The Times, President Najibullah offered to appoint a high-level commission with full judicial powers to oversee a new inquiry into Dubs' murder, and to give U.S. investigators free access to all government documents and witnesses and the power to coordinate the investigation.

"When an official appeal is made to us by the U.S. State Department, I will immediately assign a committee, and, following that, the government of the United States can send one or two persons to coordinate the committee, to look into the issue officially," Najibullah told The Times.

Najibullah, an authoritarian, self-styled Communist-turned-democrat who took over the Afghan secret police about a year after Dubs was killed, said he personally ordered a search for documents related to the murder more than a decade ago. But, he said, even with his current presidential authority he has been unable to find such critical evidence as tape recordings of conversations between Dubs' kidnapers and the Afghan government negotiators who failed to rescue him.

"I do not have so much hope, but we will begin the work," he said. "My personal view is that there has been no document at all since the very beginning. If there had been any, they were destroyed or eliminated. We have a proverb: The thieves who move on the snow or dirt, they move a board behind them to cover their footprints.

"But of course, when we look, something will be found. . . . At least we will achieve something."

Most analysts of the case consider Dubs' murderers to be part of a wide, government-backed conspiracy to kill him, and among the many suspects are some of Najibullah's own officials. Asked if he will order members of his own government to appear before the commission, Najibullah answered: "Yes, we will ask them. Why not?

"Of course, for the people of the United States of America, it is important to know why this brutal act was made against him. We are now ready to cooperate in this respect."

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