PRAGUE, 30 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan authorities fear that Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants may try to carry out high- profile attacks this week to coincide with a two-day conference in London about Afghanistan's future.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be joined at the London Conference on 31 January by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and delegates from 70 other countries.
Tensions between Islamabad and Kabul have been growing amid the continuing wave of suicide bombings that have mostly occurred in southern Afghanistan. Many Afghans say they think the suicide attacks are being carried out by foreign terrorists based in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, security operations continue in volatile southern provinces struck by a series of suicide attacks in recent months. On 28-29 January, troops from the Afghan National Army arrested nine suspected terrorists in Kandahar Province.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zahir Azimi tells RFE/RL that the arrests include "Mullah Janan" -- a man identified in the past by the Afghan government as a high- ranking Taliban commander with direct links to Al-Qaeda.
"Among the new measures to improve the security of [southern] provinces -- and especially Kandahar -- the Afghan National Army has increased its activities," Azimi said. "Today, as part of those increased activities, an operation in the central Kandahar district of Lowallah led to the arrest of Mullah Janan. At first, he had identified himself as Mullah Saleh. But later, after an investigation, it became clear that he is Mullah Janan -- not Mullah Saleh."
Afghan officials and U.S.-led coalition forces have claimed on several previous occasions to have arrested the Taliban's high- ranking "Mullah Janan" -- including May and October of 2003 as well as in August 2005.
It was not immediately clear if those earlier reports had been erroneous or if the suspect had been released from his previous detention -- only to be apprehended again.
However, authorities note that Mullah Janan is a common name in Afghanistan -- and that several local Taliban commanders also have been calling themselves Mullah Janan.
A person claiming to be a spokesman for Taliban fighters also identified himself to reporters as Mullah Janan in August of 2004. Kandahar Province Governor Assadullah Khaleed tells RFE/RL that the latest arrests include two suspected terrorists from Pakistan.
Suicide Bombers From Pakistan?
"In the last two days, in three different cases, the security officials in Kandahar arrested several terrorists with equipment such as explosives, remote control detonators, fuses for land mines, and similar things. In one case two foreigners who are from Pakistan were arrested," he said. "So in total there are nine arrests -- and seven of them are Afghans."
Tensions between Islamabad and Kabul have been growing amid the continuing wave of suicide bombings that have occurred, mostly in southern Afghanistan. Many Afghans say they think the suicide attacks are being carried out by foreign terrorists based in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, in Kabul today, Afghan security forces defused two roadside bombs discovered near the U.S. Embassy. The bombs were fashioned from land mines and wired to detonators. They were hidden in a ditch about 300 meters from the heavily guarded embassy compound.
The bombs were placed about 200 meters apart beside a road that leads to Kabul's airport. The road is frequently used by U.S. embassy personnel and security forces.
(RFE/RL's Afghan Service correspondent Rashteen Qadiri contributed to this report from Kandahar.)
Abdullah Abdullah (epa)
Afghan Foreign Minister ABDULLAH ABDULLAH on January 21 spoke by telephone with RFE/RL Afghan Service correspondent Zarif Nazar. Abdullah discussed the most recent videotaped message from Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the current state of the Taliban, terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, and the upcoming London conference on the Afghanistan Compact.
To read the complete interview,click here.