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Afghan Sweep May Include Hundreds

Asia: Government arrests political opponents, accusing them of plotting to assassinate ministers and destabilize regime.


KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's interim government has arrested hundreds of political opponents associated with a former moujahedeen warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, accusing them of planning to assassinate government ministers in a bombing campaign, officials said today.

Lt. Col. Neal Peckman, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, said 300 people had been arrested in recent days, including 12 late Wednesday.

But senior officials with Prime Minister Hamid Karzai's interim administration put the figure lower, saying that 30 to 40 people had been rounded up.

They confirmed that Wahidullah Sabaun, a former Hekmatyar associate, was under house arrest. He was a minister with the Northern Alliance but was excluded from the current interim administration.

Gen. Abdul Basir, police chief of Kabul, the capital, said that after Sabaun was denied a post in the interim government he became resentful and started organizing activities against the Karzai administration.

"About 30 to 40 people who were allied with Sabaun were arrested in the last three days," he said today.

Basir said it was "probable" that the group was planning to assassinate the defense minister, Mohammed Qassim Fahim, and the interior minister, Younis Qanooni, two powerful figures from the Northern Alliance.

The plan was to destabilize the regime before a grand council, or loya jirga, is convened in June to choose a new transitional government.

Gen. Abdul Khaliq, deputy chief of the Intelligence Department in Kabul, also said that 30 to 40 arrests had taken place.

Sabaun is under house arrest, but others have been jailed.

Although authorities asserted that a bombing plot had been uncovered, details were vague and the arrests had a political flavor, with all those detained being opponents of Karzai's administration.

Basir said that Sabaun had renewed his contact with Hekmatyar, who is believed to be in Iran.

There is bitter blood between Hekmatyar and the Northern Alliance figures who dominate the key security posts in Karzai's Cabinet.

Before he fled to Iran, Hekmatyar fought in a vicious civil war in the early 1990s against the forces of Ahmed Shah Masoud, who went on to lead the Northern Alliance.

Basir said intelligence services had found documents proving that Sabaun was trying to recruit people into Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami party.

"Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was organizing sedition," Basir said. "Sabaun has been under suspicion for some time."

Asked if the arrested figures were organizing any illegal activities, he replied, "Show me which of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's activities is legal.

"They were recruiting people into Hekmatyar's party to organize people against the interim government."

Basir said there was no detailed evidence of a bombing plot but said, "I believe it was probable."

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