Afghan officials want to question ex-Taliban foreign minister in U.S. hands

Saturday, February 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Afghan authorities want to interrogate the former Taliban foreign minister now being held by the U.S. military and ensure he faces trial, an Afghan foreign ministry spokesman said Saturday.

Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil turned himself in to local officials in the southern city of Kandahar on Friday and was taken to the U.S. military base at the city's airport. U.S. defense officials said Muttawakil was being detained and questioned by American officials at the base.

Bad weather Saturday hampered a U.S. search team trying to reach a remote spot in the eastern Afghanistan's mountains where a CIA spy drone fired at several people last week.

Officials do not know who was killed in the attack by the remote-controlled Predator but suspect they could have been top al-Qaida members. Lt. Cmdr. Matt Klee, spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said the more than 50 U.S. soldiers dropped off by helicopters a day earlier did not make much progress.

Another 34 prisoners arrived Saturday at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, bringing the total there to 220, military officials said.

In Washington, Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Omar Samad said his country's interim government wants to talk to Muttawakil to find out what he knows about Taliban atrocities and its links to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

``We do think that it would be probably appropriate for the Afghan interim authority to at least interrogate him for a while before he is taken out of Afghanistan, if the decision is made to take him out of Afghanistan,'' Samad said in an interview.

U.S. officials have not said whether they plan to transfer Muttawakil with other Afghan war detainees to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Another top Taliban leader, former army chief of staff Mullah Fazel Mazloom, is among the 220 prisoners being held there.

The Afghan government wants Muttawakil put on trial, whether by U.S., Afghan or international authorities, said Samad, scoffing at Muttawakil's reputation in some quarters as a Taliban moderate.

``What we do insist on is that he does face trial and he does face some type of justice and answer questions about his past involvement in terrorism activities and human rights violations during the Taliban regime,'' Samad said. ``These are crimes against humanity that include massacres and atrocities, and cultural crimes including destruction of artifacts.''

Authorities hope that Muttawakil's surrender will encourage other former Taliban leaders to give themselves up. The U.S. military so far has had no luck tracking down former Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, for example.

``There may be other Taliban leaders, those still on the run inside Afghanistan, who may be looking for ways to turn themselves in and get the best deal possible for themselves, instead of being hunted down and killed or bombarded,'' Samad said.

In the weeks after Sept. 11, Muttawakil was mentioned as someone who might be acceptable to Afghanistan's majority Pashtuns to provide an alternative leadership to the Taliban.

There were reports that he and Mohammed Omar had argued about the presence of Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Some reports said Muttawakil had been jailed in the last months of Taliban rule for trying to press for bin Laden to be handed over.

But Samad offered a harsh appraisal. ``There were always rumors that he was a so-called moderate Taliban,'' he said, ``but not too many Afghans believe that.''