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Afghanistan: Kabul Security Remains Uncertain As Investigation Of Near Bombing Continues

By Nancy-Amelia Collins

The arrest in Kabul last week of a man driving a car laden with explosives apparently destined for a suicide attack on either top Afghan officials or foreigners in the Afghan capital has emphasized yet again the fragile state of security in Kabul. RFE/RL talks to an Afghan security official and the head of the International Security Assistance Force to get a sense of how vulnerable the city truly is.

Kabul, 5 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The man arrested in Kabul last week with a car laden with more than 400 kilograms of explosives has yet to be identified. But security officials say he is a foreigner and a member of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, whose apparent aim was to launch a suicide attack on Afghan President Hamid Karzai, members of his cabinet, or -- failing that -- foreigners residing in the city.

Amanullah Salih, Afghanistan's director of national security, spoke to RFE/RL on 3 August. He said the suspect revealed details of the plot under interrogation, adding that he believed "the fruits of paradise" awaited him if he was successful in his task. Salih declined to divulge the suspect's nationality, saying only he was "definitely" not an Afghan or a Pakistani.

The security chief also said Al-Qaeda remains a significant threat in Afghanistan and is likely to attempt further attacks on the capital city. "This is not to create paranoia in Kabul, but the reality is nobody can guarantee that this was the last attempt of the enemy. We are of the belief, based on our reports from multiple sources, that probably this was one out of many, many plans -- some of them already in motion," Salih said.

The 5,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it had shared information with the Afghan authorities preceding last week's arrest, which may have helped to thwart the attack. ISAF spokesman Major Murat Pekgulec said the peacekeepers have not gone on a heightened state of alert, and insisted the capital is still safe. "All these kinds of events show the close coordination with the ISAF and the Transitional Authority. We give some information and the Transitional Authority catches up to bombers, suicide bombers. So it shows that [there is] good coordination with ISAF and the Transitional Authority. It shows that Kabul, again, [is] a secure city," Pekgulec said.

Although the ISAF spokesman said the possibility of a terrorist attack in Kabul cannot be ruled out, cooperation between the United Nations-mandated force and the Afghan government may help to prevent future attacks through shared intelligence. "It's always a possibility, all the time, a potential terrorist attack -- [in] all cities like Kabul -- so we can say [it's] a possibility. So that's why good relations, good coordination between the Transitional Authority and ISAF [prevented] the Kabul city [incident] and why the city is still safe. That's why ISAF is here," Pekgulec said.

Afghan security head Salih, however, disagrees. He called Kabul today a "paradise" compared to its shattered state during Afghanistan's 23 years of war, but he said information has surfaced that Al-Qaeda will strike again, and possibly soon, both in Kabul and around the country.

He added that the network has reorganized and is targeting the Afghan leadership and foreigners living in Kabul. Salih said that, although the government is working hard to prevent any future terrorist attacks, Afghanistan remains a dangerous country. "Because the country is facing so many problems, because its borders are so porous, because the institutions are not fully active and not fully rehabilitated, I don't have enough confidence to say it is safe," Salih said.

Unrest continues outside the capital city as well. The United Nations yesterday asked the government to post guards outside its facilities in the southern city of Kandahar after a grenade attack there last week.

No one was injured in the attack, which UN officials say was probably aimed at embarrassing Karzai's government. Officials added that foreigners are not normally the target of attacks in Kandahar.