Afghanistan says it's broken up al Qaida cell in Kabul

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 5, 2011 

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials said Wednesday that they'd broken up an al Qaida-affiliated terrorist cell at Kabul University that was planning to assassinate President Hamid Karzai and carry out attacks in the United States.

The cell's six members had met with operatives from al Qaida and the al Qaida-allied Haqqani network in Waziristan in Pakistan, where they'd also received some training, Latifullah Mashal, a spokesman for Afghanistan's National Security Directorate, told a news conference in Kabul.

The group recently had received $150,000 from "foreign organizations outside Afghanistan" to carry out its attacks, including plots against targets in New York and Washington, Mashal said. Investigators are trying to determine the origin of the money.

"This is not a small Taliban group," he said. "It is a transnational, al Qaida-affiliated terrorist group that was planning to hit some targets in New York and Washington," in addition to the plot against Karzai. Mashal provided no specifics about the alleged plots on targets in the United States.

The group's members were said to comprise a member of Karzai's presidential guard, a medical professor at the university and four students.

The discovery of a terrorist cell in Afghanistan isn't a rare occurrence. Afghan and U.S.-led international forces have made many terrorist arrests over the years. But the discovery of a cell at the university was especially alarming, Mashal said.

"An uneducated teenage suicide bomber who comes from the mountains of Waziristan cannot easily determine his target, while the members of this group are doctors and engineers, who knew how to use the Internet and computers," Mashal said.

The announcement of the cell and the assertion that it was tied to the Haqqani network also were likely to add to the tensions that now characterize Afghanistan's relationship with Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaida and the Taliban.

Afghan and U.S. authorities in recent weeks have linked the Haqqani network, an Afghan insurgent group whose headquarters are thought to be in Pakistan, to Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. They've also blamed it for recent attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the assassination of the head of Afghanistan's peace committee.

Kabul University, founded in 1932, is Afghanistan's largest university. It was a hotbed of political activity in the late 1960s and early 1970s, although the government officially banned such activity on campus in 1968. Many of the Afghanistan's current leaders, from the left and the right, began their political careers by engaging in campus politics during this time.

In his visits to Kabul University, Karzai frequently encourages students to avoid political activities. But the university is still a political center, where movements, including the Taliban, recruit members.

(Zohori is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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