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Afghan Rebels Seize Capital, Hang Ex-Leader

September 27, 1996|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW DELHI — As Afghan government troops fled their bunkers and posts under cover of darkness, the Taliban militia early today overran the capital, Kabul, hanged the former pro-Soviet leader, Najibullah, and proclaimed the creation of a strict Islamic state.

After two days of heavy fighting that left hundreds dead around the war-devastated city, the rebels met little resistance as they rolled into Kabul about 1 a.m. in tanks and on foot from several directions, reports said.

The guerrillas quickly set up checkpoints and halted and searched vehicles.

They stopped at some street corners to recite verses from the Koran, the Muslim holy scriptures, through loudspeakers.

Former President Najibullah, who had been in hiding at a U.N. compound for four years since losing power, was seized and executed.

The bloated, beaten body of the man who also once headed the hated Afghan Communists' security service was strung up from a lamppost outside the presidential palace, reports said.

The Taliban's lightning victory left them masters of about two-thirds of Afghanistan and seemingly doomed any remaining vestiges of President Burhanuddin Rabbani's authority.

Rabbani was named president in June 1992 after the anti-Communist moujahedeen ousted Najibullah, a former ally of the Soviet Union, but the Islamic fighters soon fell to feuding among themselves.

The Taliban, which has received assistance from neighboring Pakistan, has steadfastly sought the overthrow of Rabbani's rump government, which now controls only a handful of provinces north of Kabul, and its replacement by a strict Islamic regime.

After the seizure of Kabul, the rebels' supreme leader, Mullah Omar, quoted by a Pakistan-based news service, declared Afghanistan a "completely Islamic state" where it said a "complete Islamic system will be enforced."

In areas it has previously seized since its creation almost two years ago, the Taliban has shut schools for girls, ordered that women wear veils in public and banned television and music, branding them un-Islamic.

On Wednesday, the rebels launched their attack on Kabul after capturing the strategic town of Sarobi to the east.

The invaders took control of the Wasir Akbar Khan diplomatic district in central Kabul late Thursday, and reports said small groups of residents came onto the streets to burn posters of Rabbani and his top military commander, Ahmed Shah Masoud.

At the United Nations in New York, the government's deputy foreign minister, Abdur Rahim Ghafourzai, said Masoud had withdrawn to the north of Kabul, taking jet fighters and other military hardware.

Rabbani had also retreated to Kabul's outskirts and would decide later today on a "transfer of power," Ghafourzai said.

On Thursday, as artillery and rockets thundered, thousands of Kabul residents, fearing a blood bath, escaped with whatever they could carry on crammed trucks and buses along the last major road north of the city still controlled by government forces.

Source close to the Taliban told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press service that troops loyal to Rabbani were also fleeing northward, but that other soldiers had fought the Taliban near the presidential palace in Kabul's center.

The sources said the Taliban had seized control Thursday night of the old Soviet air base at Bagram, 30 miles north of Kabul, severing Rabbani's last air link with the outside world.

By late Thursday, government commanders were seen abandoning the city and check posts. The streets were deserted, and the security ministry building stood empty.

The Taliban--with many members who were formerly students in Islamic schools along the Pakistan-Afghan border--earlier had taken control of the capital's Khwaja Rwash airport and the Soviet-built Microrayon housing complex in the east.

An official of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jan-Luc Paladini, said there had been hundreds of dead and wounded on both sides in the last two days of fighting.

International aid agencies, which have tended to Kabul's battered populace since the Russian-backed Communists were forced out in 1992, evacuated their staffs.

"The city is cornered in all four sides, and we don't know whether there will be a peaceful takeover like the other places or not," Esther Robertson of the British group CARE told Associated Press. "We feel that it is better to go now while we have a chance."

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