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Saudis arrest 2 in Afghan minister's death

Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, left, attending the funeral of Abdul Rahman, has vowed to prosecute those responsible for the Afghan minister's death.  

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Saudi Arabian officials in Kabul said Sunday that they had apprehended two of the three senior Afghan interim government officials sought in the killing of an Afghanistan minister.

The men fled from Kabul to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, after Thursday's slaying of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan minister of civil aviation and tourism. The suspects who were arrested were not identified.

Saudi Arabia has promised to hand them over to the interim government in Kabul but did not say when it would do so.

The three officials who fled to Saudi Arabia were identified earlier as Gen. Abdullah Tawhedi, head of the Intelligence Ministry; Gen. Qalander Big, technical deputy of the Ministry of Defense; and Haji Halim, a Supreme Court justice.

Five other officials among about 20 suspects sought in Rahman's death have been apprehended in Kabul, an Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

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Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai vowed to prosecute those responsible for the slaying at Kabul's airport.

"They will be given to justice," said Karzai, who with other officials attended Rahman's funeral Saturday. "They have committed a murder, and let justice decide. Let the courts decide."

Speaking at a ceremony Sunday where he signed the first monetary checks for Afghanistan's reconstruction efforts, Karzai commended the actions of the defense and interior ministers, who told him Friday the names of suspects in the killing.

After speaking with the ministers, the interim leader immediately convened his Cabinet to discuss the killing, which Karzai has deemed an assassination.

"The Cabinet decided that [the suspects] will be announced, that they would be arrested and they would be brought to justice," Karzai said. "The Cabinet is fully, fully united."

The suspects had a long vendetta against Rahman, who had broken away from the Northern Alliance, according to Zalmay Khalilzad, President Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan.

Officials originally said Rahman was beaten to death by Hajj pilgrims frustrated at having to wait up to two days to get a plane to the Muslim pilgrimage destination in Mecca. According to intelligence reports and eyewitness accounts, the suspects went on Rahman's plane and killed him, Karzai said.

"There is no doubt about what happened, and that's why we made that strict, strong decision to announce and arrest them," Karzai said.

In another matter, he said "circumstances are not yet clear" regarding a shooting early Saturday in Kabul in which two British paratroopers who killed an Afghan man reported they had been fired upon by a gunman.

The International Security Assistance Force said six British paratroopers came under fire for the first time in the Afghan capital when an unidentified gunman in a car sped past a British security post and began shooting.

One of the men in the convoy said the group was fired on without provocation while trying to take a pregnant woman to a hospital.

-- CNN Producer Lonzo Cook contributed to this report.


• Minister buried after brutal death
February 16, 2002
• Afghan minister 'assassinated'
February 15, 2002



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