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Tuesday, 11 September, 2001, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Afghan opposition leader 'still alive'
Ahmed Shah Masood
Masood (centre) is a veteran of the Afghan conflict
The most senior political figure in the Afghan opposition, Burhanuddin Rabbani, has denied reports that opposition commander Ahmed Shah Masood died following an assassination attempt on Sunday.

Mr Rabbani, who was ousted as president of Afghanistan by the Taleban in 1996, told the BBC that Mr Masood was injured in the face, head and leg, but was conscious and had spoken to him.


I strongly refuse that Mr Masood is dead, he must go to another country for treatment

Ousted president Rabbani
Mr Rabbani said the commander would be flown to a neighbouring country for treatment soon.

Mr Masood was the victim of a bomb explosion near his home in the north of the country.

But a US expert on Afghanistan, Barnet Rubin, said earlier that people close to Mr Masood and the American Central Intelligence Agency had confirmed his death, and the BBC's Afghan analyst, Baqer Moin, said "reliable sources" told him that Mr Masood had died in the explosion.

Conflicting reports

Mr Masood's supporters have been insisting that he is alive since the explosion.

Burhanuddin Rabbani
Masood's forces are loyal to Mr Rabbani
"I strongly refuse that Mr Masood is dead," Mr Rabbani said. "He must go to another country for treatment."

He said that the commander would give an interview to the media as soon as his doctors allowed it.

Ahmed Wali Masood, Mr Masood's brother and spokesman in London, told CNN television that his brother had been unconscious for 10 to 15 hours, fuelling speculation about his death.

The BBC's Baqer Moin said that reports of Mr Masood's death were backed up by the preparations for a major meeting in Tajikistan of Afghanistan's neighbours.

He also said that the Northern Alliance had continued to insist that Mr Masood was alive to buy them time to put in place a successor - General Fahim, the head of intelligence for Mr Masood.

Attack

Mr Masood was giving an interview to two Arab journalists in Afghanistan's northern Takhar province when a bomb went off. It had been concealed in a video camera.


Mr Moin said he had been told that the blast killed Mr Masood, the Afghan ambassador to India, and one of the reporters.

The Taleban has denied involvement in the attack.

Opposition official Sayed Najibullah Hashimi told Reuters news agency that the attack had been masterminded by Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden.

'Lion of Panjshir'

Mr Masood, known as the "Lion of the Panjshir", is a veteran commander of the opposition Northern Alliance. His forces remain loyal to Mr Rabbani's government.

Masood fighter in Takhar province
Masood controls a part of northern Afghanistan
The 49-year-old ethnic Tajik commander is widely regarded as the last bulwark against the ruling Taleban.

In the past few years, Taleban forces have pushed north and now control some 90% of Afghanistan. Both sides are trying to gain and secure ground before the winter sets in.

Heavy fighting has taken place recently in Takhar and in areas close to the Tajik border.

Mr Masood played a major role in the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation in 1979-1989.

The ruling Taleban appeared to be capitalising on the attack on Mr Masood, launching a major offensive north of the capital, Kabul, on Monday night.

Opposition sources with Mr Masood's forces said the Taleban offensive was concentrating on two fronts leading to his stronghold and birthplace in the Panjshir valley, 120 km (80 miles) north of Kabul.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Baqer Moin
"The camera exploded ... it killed Ahmad Shah Masood"
See also:

11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: The Lion of Panjshir
11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan opposition's prospects
11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Masood attack: Reports differ wildly
11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Masood's regional allies
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
05 Apr 01 | South Asia
Europe fetes anti-Taleban leader
14 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban lose key city
16 Sep 00 | South Asia
Afghan war threatens region
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
Afghanistan's years of bloodshed
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