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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Mass arrests of Kabul 'plotters'
Interim leader Hamid Karzai (centre) reviews new Afghan army troops
The new multi-ethnic army is still being formed
The Afghan interim administration says it has uncovered an anti-government plot and arrested up to 160 suspects in the capital, Kabul.

The Kabul chief of police, General Din Mohammed Jurat, said the detainees had been plotting to plant bombs in Kabul and carry out other destructive acts against the government.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: Leader of Pashtun-dominated Islamist group
Many of the suspects were picked up from the house of a senior Hezb-i-Islami commander, Wahidullah Saba-Unn, where they had been staying as guests.

The Interior Ministry told the BBC that 300 people had originally been arrested. Most have been released and Interior Minister Younis Qanooni has said 160 currently remain in custody.

Mr Saba-Unn, who has served in the post-Taleban administration, has been placed under house arrest.

Attacks 'planned'

The chief of police said the authorities had legal evidence against the detainees, and denied that the arrests were a means of settling old political scores.

The security forces, including intelligence and police, are now dominated by another old mujahideen faction, Jamaat-i-Islami, the BBC's Kate Clark reports.

General Jurat said most of those arrested were members of Hezb-i-Islami - a hardline Islamic group headed by former prime minister and mujahideen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

But a spokesman for Mr Hekmatyar, who is reported to be back in Afghanistan, has denied that he is involved with those arrested.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes said the group are believed to have been plotting attacks against interim government leader Hamid Karzai, exiled former King Zahir Shah, and foreign targets inside Afghanistan.

They wanted to launch a coup d'etat against the government

Mohammed Naseer
Security chief at Kabul governor's office

Mr Hekmatyar's forces were among several groups which battled for control of Kabul in the 1990s, inflicting great damage on the city.

Lieutenant-Colonel Neal Peckham, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), said about 300 people were arrested at first.

He said peacekeepers had not been involved in the operations, but in many cases were tipped off about planned arrests, so that they could stay clear of a particular part of town.

Mir Jan, a defence ministry official quoted by the French news agency AFP, said: "Some of Hekmatyar's men had been sent here to Kabul to sabotage the government".

Links suspected

Mr Hekmatyar's party represents ethnic Pashtuns, while Tajiks dominate the interim administration.

Last month, Mr Hekmatyar's party offered full co-operation and support to the interim government in order to bring lasting peace to Afghanistan.

Hezb-i-Islami earlier courted controversy because of reported statements by Mr Hekmatyar against the US and the new Afghan administration. But his deputy, Qutbuddin Hilal, said the statements had been wrongly attributed.

Iran crackdown

Mr Hekmatyar fled to Iran after the Taleban captured Kabul in 1996, but the Iranian Government recently closed his offices in Tehran and he is now reported to be back in Afghanistan.

Mohammed Naseer, security chief at the Kabul governor's office, was quoted as saying the men arrested "were linked to both al-Qaeda and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar".

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes said: "The Interior Ministry is saying Mr Hekmatyar is linked to those arrested... there does appear to be some sort of link between the two."

UK troop reinforcements have arrived in Afghanistan to help track down remaining members of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The BBC's Fiona Werge
"They found explosives and timing devices"
Colonel Neal Peckham, International Security Force
"Up to 300 hundred arrests have taken place"
See also:

11 Mar 02 | Middle East
Afghan warlord 'pledges support'
10 Feb 02 | Middle East
Iran acts against Kabul opponent
10 Feb 02 | Middle East
Iran's unlikely bedfellow
28 Mar 02 | South Asia
UN to set up Afghan mission
19 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghan refugees flood home
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's huge rebuilding task
15 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Afghanistan
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