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WAR ON TERRORISM Angry mob of Muslims kills official



Published: Fri, February 15, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Pakistan's president said he thinks the kidnapped reporter is still alive.

COMBINED DISPATCHES

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A mob of Muslim pilgrims, angered by two-day flight delays en route to Mecca, attacked and killed Afghanistan's interim transportation minister at the airport here Thursday, the Arabic-language Al Jazeera television network reported.

Air Transportation and Tourism Minister Abdul Rahman had gone to the airport to catch another flight when he was attacked by a large number of pilgrims who were waiting to fly to the Saudi holy city, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera said.

The episode deals yet another blow to the fledgling administration of interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai, which is attempting to restore law and order to Afghanistan after more than two decades of war.

Emergency meeting: Afghanistan's Cabinet met in emergency session for several hours late Thursday after Rahman's killing. The Kabul airport was sealed off this morning, and white-helmeted Interior Ministry police were stationed every few yards on the roads leading to the main entrance.

"We lost a good man, an educated man," said a top aide to Rahman, Mohammed Yakoub Nuristani. "He wanted to help rebuild Afghanistan."

"The interim administration is shocked, obviously, and very saddened by this incident," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Omar Samad. "We're looking into the criminal actions that have taken place here."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who arrived today for talks with the interim government, immediately conveyed his condolences to Abdullah Abdullah, the foreign minister.

What happened: The fatal confrontation was sparked when Rahman went to the Kabul airport Thursday afternoon for a flight to New Delhi, according to accounts from government and Afghan airline officials. Hundreds of pilgrims, stranded at the airport awaiting Saudi visas and transport to Mecca, blocked Rahman's plane, beginning a standoff that went on for about five hours, airline and government officials said.

The mob stormed the plane when Rahman emerged to try to talk to the crowd, said Abdul Wahab Nuristani, the deputy chief of a military division in eastern Afghanistan. Rahman was seized, beaten and his body tossed to the tarmac below, he said, citing witness accounts.

Despite the killing, two pilgrimage flights left the airport at 2 a.m. and another was to depart later today, airport officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Terrorist link: Meanwhile, a jury convicted a Saudi man of lying about knowing one of the terrorists aboard the plane that hit the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

Faisal Al Salmi, 34, was the first person convicted on charges connecting him to the hijackers. He was not charged with terrorism.

Al Salmi, who was convicted Thursday of making false statements, could receive up to six months behind bars when he is sentenced March 14.

Prosecutors said Al Salmi, who came to the United States on a student visa in 1997, repeatedly denied knowing hijacker Hani Hanjour during a series of interviews on Sept. 18 and Sept. 19. Both men were registered at the same time to use a flight simulator that was open to the public at a Phoenix flight school.

Missing reporter: In the case of the missing Wall Street Journal reporter, Pakistan's president said he believes Daniel Pearl is "possibly alive," despite chilling court testimony from his self-confessed kidnapper who said that to his knowledge, Pearl is dead.

"I think he is possibly alive," President Pervez Musharraf said on a visit to Washington. He explained that Pakistan officials would likely have found Pearl's body if he were dead because of the pressure being put on his kidnappers.

"We have gotten as near as possible to these culprits," Musharraf said.

More people were detained overnight Thursday and today for questioning, said Mukhtar Ahmad Sheikh, the government official in charge of police in Sindh province.

Also today, Pakistan's interior minister said he expected a major breakthrough in the case in the next 24 to 48 hours, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency said. The report gave no details but cited Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider as saying that police "had found some lead in the case."

On Thursday, chief suspect Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh appeared in court here for the first time, his hands bound in thick steel chains, surrounded by police gripping automatic rifles. Just a day earlier, police said the British-born Islamic militant had told them Pearl was alive.




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