KABUL, Afghanistan — Osama bin Laden personally ordered the assassination of Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Masoud days before the Sept. 11 attacks, a former senior Taliban official said. It was the first time a Taliban insider has discussed the terrorist mastermind's role publicly.
Masoud, military chief of the Northern Alliance, was mortally wounded Sept. 9 when two suicide attackers posing as television journalists detonated a bomb during an interview in Khodja Bahauddin, in Takhar province near the Tajik border.
In an interview, Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, 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 Qaeda 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 Masoud was dead, although the Northern Alliance would withhold confirmation of his death for 48 hours until a successor was chosen.
"They said, 'No, believe me he is gone,' " Khaksar said, referring to Masoud. "They also said that he was killed by two Arabs who were supposed to go to Indonesia but were ordered to go to Masoud and kill him. The order came from Osama. He canceled their trip to Indonesia."
The United States has said it believes that Bin Laden had foreknowledge of the plot to kill Masoud, but has not said what level of involvement he had.
The assassins were traveling on Belgian passports, and in January police in Paris arrested two men on suspicion of providing false documents to Masoud's killers.
The French authorities believed that the passports used by Masoud's killers were stolen from the Belgian Consulate in Strasbourg, France, or the Belgian Embassy in The Hague.
There has been wide speculation that Bin Laden may have plotted Masoud's death to ingratiate himself further with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar to ensure his protection if the Americans retaliated for the attacks he knew were only days away in the United States.