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Hundreds Arrested or Detained For Alleged Assassination Plot

By Robyn Dixon

Targets of an alleged Afghan assassination conspiracy included foreigners, the country’s exiled king and Prime Minister Hamid Karzai, authorities said Thursday, accusing those arrested of “undermining, threatening, sabotaging and harming this government.”

Interior Minister Younis Qanooni said about 300 opponents of Karzai’s interim regime were arrested or detained in recent days, and 160 remain in custody. Authorities claimed to have seized bomb-detonating devices and documents outlining assassination plans, but Qanooni said the plot never got beyond the planning stage.

Qanooni was among those on the hit list, Afghan security officials said, as was Defense Minister Mohammed Qassim Fahim and Mohammad Zaher Shah, the monarch who was expelled in 1973 and who is expected to return to Afghanistan this spring. Qanooni said the plot was also aimed “against our foreign guests as well” but did not specify whether he meant soldiers, peacekeepers, diplomats or civilians.

The majority of those arrested were connected with the Hezb-i-Islami party of warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had returned from exile in Iran and was now in western Afghanistan, according to Qanooni.

“These are people who have been accused. The accusations are not yet proven. An investigation is under way, and in phases it will determine whether they are innocent or guilty,” Qanooni said.

But he added: “What I’d make clear is that they were engaged in undermining, threatening, sabotaging and harming this government.”

It was difficult to determine to what extent the assassination threat was real, or whether those arrested were engaged in legitimate political activities in trying to reorganize the Hezb-i-Islami party.

However, the arrests revealed the fault lines in Afghanistan’s fragile peace.