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Sunday, 17 February, 2002, 17:21 GMT
Saudis 'hold Afghan murder suspects'
Guards at Kabul airport
Kabul airport is under heavy guard since the killing
Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, has said two people have been arrested in Saudi Arabia in connection with the killing of Civil Aviation Minister Abdul Rahman.

He said the two were senior government officials and he expected the Saudis to hand them over along with a third official.

Hamid Karzai
Karzai promised no return to factionalism
The Saudi authorities have not officially confirmed any arrests, but Mr Karzai was speaking after talks with Riyadh's ambassador to Kabul.

He confirmed that five suspects were also being held in Afghanistan itself.

Rahman's murder at Kabul airport on Thursday was initially blamed on a crowd infuriated at a lack of transport to take them to the annual Muslim pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

However all the suspects arrested in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia are members of the Jamiat-i-Islami faction, as are most staff of the Afghan security services, for which the suspects worked.

Jamiat-i-Islami has now condemned the killing, and asked the interim government to punish those involved.

Mr Karzai said there would be no "lenient hand" for the perpetrators of the killing.

"They will be given to justice - they have committed a murder," he said.

'Patriots'

The Afghan leader has defended the ministers of interior, defence and intelligence under whom the suspects served, saying that after Rahman's murder, they had acted as patriots rather than as comrades of the suspects.

Pilgrim waiting at Kabul airport
First reports said frustrated pilgrims had killed the minister
He said he would not allow Afghanistan to go back to the ways of the past, when, he said, looting and murder were commonplace.

BBC Kabul correspondent Kate Clark says this sounds like a clear reference to the mid-1990s when the armed factions, including Jamiat, were last in government in Kabul.

Those years were marked by inter-factional fighting, cronyism and lawlessness.

Mr Karzai said they would be looking afresh at appointments to the Afghan security services.

At the moment most personnel come from Jamiat. Many were appointed before the interim leader took office, including, he said, the murder suspects.

Peacekeepers' role

Mr Karzai said that the security of the Afghan people was paramount and, if necessary, he would ask for a change in the mandate of the international peacekeeping force in Kabul.

Dutch peacekeeper in Kabul
Karzai is looking to boost security at home

"If the security situation in Afghanistan does not improve further, we will make sure the international security forces are asked together with the Afghan forces to take a stronger role..." he said.

"I will use international forces, Afghan forces, to make life good for these people."

British peacekeeping forces came under fire for the first time in Afghanistan on Saturday, when an unidentified gunman attacked an observation post and the troops returned fire.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Adam Mynott
"Karzai has promised stern punishment for the killers of Dr Rahman"
See also:

16 Feb 02 | South Asia
Farewell to murdered Afghan minister
16 Feb 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghan minister mourned
16 Feb 02 | UK
UK troops fired on in Kabul
15 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Straw caution on more troops
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