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Embassy blast link to Kabul strike

Kabul, Feb. 12: Yesterday’s militant strike in Kabul was probably planned or supported by Pakistan-based Jalaluddin Haqqani, accused of the July 2008 attack on the Indian embassy here, a US official said today.

Haqqani, a Taliban leader who runs a terror network in Pakistan’s tribal areas, is believed to have carried out the embassy bombing with help from members of Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI.

Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh too alleged a Pakistani link to yesterday’s attack, saying the gunmen sent three messages to Pakistan seeking the “blessing of their mastermind”.

The assault on three government buildings, which killed at least 20 people apart from the eight gunmen and injured 57, eerily echoed the November 26 Mumbai attacks, also blamed on a Pakistani group with alleged ISI links, the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The Mumbai attackers too had been in phone contact with their minders in Pakistan.

Reports said that some witnesses to yesterday’s attacks overheard several of the gunmen speaking Urdu, the national language of Pakistan. Other witnesses, however, said they heard the attackers speak Pashto, the language of ethnic Pashtuns in Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan.

Ghulam Sakhi, a clerk at the justice ministry, said: “I saw the bombers with their Kalashnikovs and grenades. They were talking on their cellphones in Pashto and asking someone what they should do next.”

Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said he had not seen Saleh’s remarks and could not comment. Officials in Kabul said 21 people had been detained, but it was not clear what linked them to the attacks.

Haqqani, a cleric in his 50s who dyes his hair red with henna, is a hero of the Afghan Mujahideen’s battles against Soviet troops in the 1980s. During Taliban rule in Afghanistan, however, he kept a low profile.

He and his son Sirajuddin are now believed to oversee the Taliban’s operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas, recruiting hundreds of well-trained militants who have been out of a job since militancy de-escalated in Kashmir.

The terrorists who struck Kabul appeared young, urban and well-trained, as were the Mumbai attackers, said Haroun Mir, co-founder of the Afghanistan Centre for Research and Policy Studies.

“(They) were not the ordinary Taliban type of suicide bombers who come and blow themselves up somewhere. They had rifles as well and their aim was not to immediately explode themselves,” Mir said.

“It was in my opinion to take hostages and continue the way they did in Mumbai, to paralyse Kabul…. (It) shows that those committing these kind of attacks are graduates of the same school somewhere in Pakistan.”

Although yesterday’s raids exposed gaps in Kabul’s security, the Afghan forces earned praise for their swift action that limited what could have been a much deadlier incident. The troops shot three of the attackers dead before they could enter the government offices, then swiftly stormed the buildings and killed the rest.

“The Indian forces (in Mumbai) wasted a lot of time just deciding whether to enter or not,” Mir said. Some reports, however, suggested a few of the militants may have blown themselves up.

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