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Afghanistan: Alleged Taliban-Linked Drug Lord Extradited To United States

(RFE/RL) For the first time, the government of Afghanistan has extradited one of its citizens to the United States. The suspect, Haji Baz Mohammad, is charged with importing more than $25 million worth of heroin from Afghanistan and Pakistan into the United States and other countries. He also is accused of transferring illegal drug profits to the Taliban regime.

Prague, 25 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Law enforcement officials in New York say the 47-year-old Afghan man is a Taliban-linked drug lord who tried to wage war against America by selling millions of dollars of heroin there.

A conspiracy indictment unsealed at a U.S. federal court in New York yesterday accuses Baz Mohammad of smuggling more than $25 million worth of heroin into the United States and elsewhere since 1990.

Baz Mohammad was arrested in Afghanistan in January by Afghan authorities. His transfer from an Afghan jail to New York on 21 October marks the first time an alleged drug lord has been extradited from Afghanistan to the United States.

"Baz Mohammad is well-known to American law enforcement. On 1 June of this year, President [George W.] Bush identified Baz Mohammad as one of the world's most-wanted drug kingpins," said prosecutor Michael Garcia, the U.S. attorney for the New York district handling the case.

The indictment alleges that Baz Mohammad controlled opium fields in Afghanistan's eastern province of Nangarhar -- the country's second-largest opium-producing region. The indictment also accuses him of using laboratories in Afghanistan and Pakistan to convert raw opium into heroin before smuggling it into the United States inside suitcases and in clothing.

"Baz Mohammad even went so far as to tell associates in Pakistan that selling heroin in the U.S. was a jihad, because they took the Americans' money and at the same time, the heroin they sold was killing them." -- Garcia

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency administrator Karen Tandy said investigators believe Baz Mohammad's organization provided financial support to the Taliban and "related Islamist-extremist organizations in Afghanistan" in exchange for protection. "Haji Baz Mohammad's organization was closely aligned with the Taliban," she said. "His opium trade financed the Taliban. And in turn, the Taliban protected Haji Baz Mohammad's crops, his heroin labs, his drug transportation routes, and his associates."

Garcia cited an incident that appears to illustrate that Baz Mohammad may have extremist tendencies. The incident allegedly occurred in or around 1990, when Baz Mohammad was meeting with members of his organization at what was then his residence in Karachi, Pakistan.

"Baz Mohammad even went so far as to tell associates in Pakistan that selling heroin in the U.S. was a jihad, because they took the Americans' money and at the same time, the heroin they sold was killing them," Garcia said.

New York District Attorney Garcia said, however, there is no evidence of any direct connection between the alleged drug lord and Al-Qaeda. "Clearly, when you have a group like the Taliban who's accepting this funding from Baz Mohammad, you have the potential that that's being used in operations against the United States -- although there's no specific evidence of that as charged in this indictment," he said. "What we do have evidence of, as charged, is money from this operation going to the Taliban and other groups. And that clearly presents a national security risk for this country."

At his arraignment yesterday in a U.S. federal court in Manhattan, Baz Mohammad told the judge through a translator that he is innocent. He pleaded not guilty to two counts of conspiring to violate U.S. narcotics laws. But he made no application for bail and was detained until another hearing scheduled for 14 November.

Baz Mohammad also was given a court-appointed attorney after telling the judge he had no money in any bank accounts.

Thirteen members of Baz Mohammad's organization have been arrested since an investigation into its activities was launched in 2001. His extradition follows the arrest in New York last April of another alleged Taliban-linked drug trafficker, Bashir Nurzai.

Nurzai was indicted under a separate investigation. U.S. authorities say he was a source of opium for Baz Mohammad.

Nurzai has said through his lawyer that he thinks his arrest was politically motivated and aimed at weakening the Taliban. The Taliban has denied any links with Nurzai.