updated 2/25/2006 5:56:15 AM ET 2006-02-25T10:56:15

An Afghan court on Saturday found a communist-era intelligence chief guilty of ordering hundreds of killings and sentenced him to death.

Asadullah Sarwari was cleared on a second charge of conspiracy against a post-communist government of the early 1990s.

Sarwari headed the government’s feared intelligence department in 1978 under President Nur Mohammed Taraki, Afghanistan’s first communist ruler.

“The government at the time was like a machine and I was just a part of the machine,” Sarwari, 64, wearing glasses and sporting a white beard, told the court.

The court heard testimony Saturday from more than 20 witnesses who claimed to have lost relatives, and saw video footage of documents, allegedly signed by Sarwari, in which he ordered killings.

“According to the evidence, on video tape and written, and the participation of witnesses in an open court, I sentence you to death,” Judge Abdul Basit Dakhatyari told the Kabul court.

More than 100 people in the court, many of them relatives of the dead, greeted the verdict with shouts of “God is great.”

Sarwari, who denied the charges against him and was conducting his own defense, was expected to appeal.

More than 13 years in jail before trial
Sarwari was arrested in 1992 when Islamic guerrillas gained control of the capital Kabul after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. He was held by the Northern Alliance after the capital fell to the Taliban in 1996, and returned to a Kabul jail cell following the late-2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban.

The trial only started late last year, apparently because of the years of civil war and the lack of a proper legal system in Afghanistan.

In his comments to the court, Sarwari asked why the government was not prosecuting “criminals” holding high office or sitting in Afghanistan’s newly elected parliament.

He also complained that he had been held for 13 years and eight months without trial.

Among the documents in the video footage shown to the court by the prosecution was correspondence in which Sarwari allegedly ordered provincial authorities to execute suspects. In one document, authorities in northern Takhar province said they had no transportation to send some suspects to Kabul.

“There’s no need to bring them to Kabul. Kill them there,” read a reply, allegedly signed by Sarwari. He disputed its authenticity, and said a computer should be used to analyze whether the signatures on the documents were his.

Ahmad Amin Mujadedi, a witness, said he had been arrested 27 years ago in Kabul at age 15 with more than 40 other relatives because their family were religious leaders in the community and consequently suspected by the communist authorities.

He said the women and children, including himself, were released, but the men were assumed to have been killed.

“I’m very happy with the judge’s decision. He sentenced him (Sarwari) to death. This was the right sentence for him,” Mujadedi said after the verdict.

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