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Suicide Bombing Targets, Kills Key Afghan Guerrilla Leader

By Robin Wright and Paul Watson
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

The guerrilla leader of Afghanistan’s opposition force appears to have been killed in a suicide bombing that could in turn rip apart the only movement left fighting the ruling Taliban, senior U.S. officials said Monday.

Ahmed Shah Masoud, a warrior-intellectual who beat back seven Soviet incursions into his home region in the 1980s, was the victim of a bomb hidden in a television camera or on the body of a man posing as a journalist that went off at the remote base of the Northern Alliance in Khodja Bahauddin, according to Masoud’s aides, though they insisted Monday he had survived the attack.

A legend in South Asia, Masoud inspired the Ken Follett novel “Lie Down With Lions” and was portrayed in the Sylvester Stallone movie “Rambo III.” For his military daring during a quarter century at war with the Soviets and other Afghans, he was nicknamed the Lion of the Panjsher, the desolate region along the border with Tajikistan.

The assertion by Masoud aides that he had only been injured may have been an attempt to prevent a Taliban military onslaught. In London, Ahmad Shayeq Qassem, spokesman for the Afghan Embassy, said he was “absolutely sure” Masoud is alive and his condition was improving. He said Masoud was in a hospital in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, with leg and hand wounds.

In Tajikistan, however, Afghani officials denied that he had been flown to Dushanbe by helicopter for medical treatment, though they also asserted that he was alive. An official at the Afghan Embassy in Tajikistan, Dr. Muhiddin Mehdi, claimed he had spoken to Masoud in Afghanistan by telephone Monday.

But senior U.S. officials reported Monday that Masoud had died shortly after the explosion. The U.S. officials all asked not to be named, because of the sensitive nature of the information and its sources.