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Last Updated: Monday, 18 July, 2005, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
'No impunity' for warlords in UK

By Andy Tighe
BBC home affairs correspondent

An Afghan warlord, Faryadi Zardad, has been found guilty of conspiring to torture and take hostages in his homeland after a landmark case at the Old Bailey.

Zardad was retried after the jury in his first trial, last year, had been unable to agree.

In the violent, chaotic place that was Afghanistan in the early 1990s, two words struck fear into the heart of any traveller venturing along the main highway into Kabul from neighbouring Pakistan: "Commander Zardad."

The name of the man whose forces controlled key checkpoints in the Sarobi region, 80km from the capital, was synonymous with callous brutality and cruelty.

Faryadi Sarwar Zardad
The Attorney-General said Zardad used violence against travellers

Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, now 42, was a warlord who led a band of soldiers who demanded money or supplies from people making the hazardous journey into Kabul along a route that was unprotected by government troops.

Torture and hostage-taking were methods they used to ensure compliance.

But several years later, after a change of regime in Afghanistan, Zardad found himself living in exile in south London, claiming state benefits and hoping for political asylum.

He had no idea that his savage past was to catch up with him.

'Unwarranted violence'

Following a BBC television exposť, Zardad was detained and eventually brought to court to face charges of conspiracy to torture and conspiracy to take hostages.

It was the first time a case like this had been heard in Britain and the prosecution opening speech was given by the Attorney-General himself, Lord Goldsmith.

Zardad accepted that he was a military commander but said he had never given orders for anyone to be tortured or kidnapped

"Zardad and his soldiers would use indiscriminate and unwarranted violence on innocent civilian travellers," said Lord Goldsmith.

"He wanted a fearsome reputation of being cruel and merciless so that people would obey absolutely and hand over money and goods."

In the dock, Zardad listened in silence, showing no emotion as a series of witnesses gave evidence via video-link from the British Embassy in Kabul.

This too was unprecedented: The law had to be changed to allow video evidence to be admitted in a trial of this nature.

The jury heard a series of shocking allegations.

'Human dog'

The witnesses - whose identities are protected - said they had been beaten, imprisoned and tortured by Zardad's men.

One lorry-driver said he was held for six months and slept overnight in a metal container not much bigger than a wardrobe. He only obtained his freedom when his brother managed to raise the money for a ransom.

The police feared he might instruct his associates still in Afghanistan or Pakistan to intimidate potential witnesses
Another disturbing claim was that Zardad kept what was called a "human dog" - a mentally ill man who lived in a hole in the ground and would bite and maul prisoners who refused to comply.

The man was eventually captured by the new Afghan authorities and executed.

Throughout, Zardad denied all the charges.

His lawyer, Anthony Jennings QC, said that the witnesses might belong to rival factions and have their own interests for giving evidence.

Zardad accepted that he was a military commander but said he was not one of the most senior officers and had never given orders for anyone to be tortured or kidnapped.

His defence also claimed that any wrongdoing that may have occurred was the work of local intelligence services, and not Zardad.

Jurors in the first trial in 2004 were unable to reach a verdict but in this month's retrial they found him guilty.

No impunity

As many as 70 people were interviewed by Scotland Yard detectives who made several visits to Afghanistan to persuade people to come forward.

A senior police source said he regarded the allegations heard in court as merely "the tip of the iceberg".

When Zardad discovered he was being investigated he withdrew his application for asylum and was presumably preparing to leave the country. That was when the police moved in and arrested him.

They feared he might instruct his associates still in Afghanistan or Pakistan to intimidate potential witnesses.

It was to prove an expensive investigation but the authorities are confident that an important legal precedent has now been struck: that people who are guilty of serious human rights violations in their home country cannot expect to live with impunity in Britain.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch John Simpson confront Faryadi Zardad in 2000



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