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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Afghan 'drug lord' handed to US
Baz Mohammad. Photo: the US Department of Justice, 21 October 2005
Mr Mohammad denies all the allegations
An alleged drug lord with reported links to the Taleban has become the first Afghan citizen to be extradited to the US, prosecutors in New York say.

Baz Mohammad is accused of heading an international cartel responsible for taking more than $25m (14m) worth of heroin into the US and other countries.

He is alleged to have said that selling heroin in the US was an act of "jihad", or holy war, against America.

Mr Mohammad, 47, says he is innocent. He faces life in prison if convicted.

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The BBC's Andrew North in Kabul says western officials hope Mr Mohammad's case will set a precedent, encouraging the Afghan government to support other extraditions of suspected drug traffickers.

He says the Afghan government has faced criticism over the past few years that it is not prepared to tackle the bigger players in the illegal trade, many of whom have government positions.

'Clear message'

Mr Mohammad was extradited from Afghanistan late last week, US federal prosecutors announced on Monday.

A Afghan farmer extracting opium from a poppy blossom. File photo
In 2004, Afghanistan produced 90% of the world's opium

He is accused on two counts of conspiring to violate US narcotics laws since 1990.

According to an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court, Mr Mohammad controlled opium fields in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province, processed the opium into heroin and shipped it into the US.

He is also alleged to have told members of his organisation that "selling heroin in the US was a jihad because they took the Americans' money and at the same time the heroin they sold was killing them".

The prosecution believes Mr Mohammad had close links to the Taleban regime that was ousted from power during the US-led invasion in 2001.

"The extradition... is an historic step in our work with the Afghan people to end the dual threat of narco-terrorism," said US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Mr Gonzales said the move also "sends a clear message to drug lords around the world: those who seek to destroy American lives will be brought to justice".

'Innocent'

Mr Mohammad was arrested by Afghan authorities in the south of the country in January, sources have told the BBC.

He was extradited from Afghanistan on 21 October, and was in Afghan custody between his arrest and departure from the country.

The arrest was at the request of the US government, a western official told the BBC, based on information from the US government's Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

He said Baz Mohammad was believed to have close ties to another suspected Afghan drugs trafficker, Bashir Noorzai, who was arrested in America in April. Noorzai is accused of being one of the "kingpins" of the Afghan heroin trade.

At his arraignment, Mr Mohammad pleaded not guilty to all charges. "I am innocent," he said through a translator.

A further hearing is scheduled on 14 November.




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