ZALMAY KHALILZAD
Musadeq Sadeq  /  AP
U.S ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is guarded during a ceremony Laghman province, 70 miles east of Kabul, on Sunday.
updated 6/20/2005 10:47:05 AM ET 2005-06-20T14:47:05

Afghan intelligence officials have thwarted a plot to assassinate U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and arrested three Pakistanis in northeastern Afghanistan, officials said Monday.

The men, who were armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles, were arrested in the Qarghayi district of Laghman province Sunday, just 150 feet from where Khalilzad had planned to inaugurate a road with Afghanistan’s interior minister, presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin told The Associated Press.

Afghan television broadcast a video of the men in custody. The suspects, all young and with thin mustaches, were seen sitting together on a brown sofa being questioned by a man off camera. They identified themselves as Murat Khan, Noor Alam and Zahid and said they are from Pakistan. None confessed on camera or were asked any questions about the attack on Khalilzad, who is to be the next U.S. ambassador in Iraq.

But two senior Afghan officials said the men had confessed to intelligence agents and told authorities they were in Afghanistan “to fight jihad,” or holy war.

“Their aim was to assassinate Khalilzad, and they came to Afghanistan specifically for this operation,” said one of the officials.

The officials, both of whom have intimate knowledge of the investigation, spoke on condition of anonymity due to the extreme sensitivity of the intelligence and their positions within the government.

Powerful force
The Afghan-born Khalilzad has been a powerful force in Afghanistan, often portrayed as the ultimate power behind U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai. The two are undoubtedly close, having known each other for decades.

Khalilzad warned last week that terrorist and rebel attacks are likely to escalate ahead of legislative elections in September.

Khalilzad canceled his appearance at the road opening at the last minute and was never in danger, the official said. The interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali, also canceled his appearance.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul had no immediate comment on the arrests.

The official said the fact the plotters knew of Khalilzad’s trip, and that Jalali was supposed to be with him, was “very disturbing.”

“We don’t know how they got this information,” he said.

It was not known who had sent the men. One of the officials said the Afghan government was extremely angry at what he called a “lack of cooperation” from Pakistan in stopping militants from crossing the border.

He said Islamabad’s lack of resolve was a factor in both the assassination plot and a recent surge in violence across southern Afghanistan that has left hundreds dead.

“We have always believed that if we got cooperation from Pakistan, this violence wouldn’t be happening,” he said. “These militants are getting support from people in Pakistan, and we are not convinced when Islamabad says it can’t control them.”

Angry Pakistan reaction
Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed reacted angrily to any hint of official sanction for the attack.

“This is a baseless allegation,” he told AP. “Pakistan is not involved in any such thing now or in the past.”

Afghan officials often accused Pakistan of not doing enough to seal its border, and say privately they believe some elements of the army and intelligence network are helping Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. Pakistan vehemently denies the charges. Officials boast that they have stationed tens of thousands of troops along the border and arrested more than 700 al-Qaida suspects.

Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak warned on Friday that al-Qaida had slipped at least half a dozen agents into the country and was seeking to bring Iraq-style carnage to Afghanistan.

Two of the men — both Arabs — detonated bombs attached to themselves earlier this month in attacks that killed 20 people and wounded four U.S. troops.

On Monday, U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said foreign militants backed by networks channeling them money and arms had come into Afghanistan to try to subvert the elections. He said that for “operational security reasons” he could not identify the networks or who was backing them.

“Through our intelligence, working with the government of Afghanistan, we have identified outside influences coming in here to Afghanistan and trying to instill fear in this country,” he said at a news conference.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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