Hijacker 'saw Taliban squads murder nurses'

War on Terrorism: Old Bailey
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The Independent Online

A jury at the Old Bailey was given a graphic description of life inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan yesterday by an alleged plane hijacker.

At the trial of a group of men accused of last year's Stansted airport hijacking, the court heard an Afghan defendant describe how he had witnessed mutilated bodies, torture, soldiers raping children, death squads and the execution of a woman in front of her child.

Ali Safi, 38, a former university lecturer, stands accused with nine others of hijacking an internal Afghan flight and bringing it to Stansted, in Essex, in February last year. As with most of his fellow co-accused, Safi claims he was a member of the progressive anti-Taliban Young Intellectuals of Afghanistan, and was in fear of his life.

He said he had been in the country's capital, Kabul, for his father's funeral in 1996 when the Taliban killed the president and invaded the city.

Mr Safi said: "President Najibullah's body was hanging with his brother's from a traffic light. I couldn't believe my eyes. He had been hit in the head by bullets and there were cigarette butts in his nostrils."

When Mr Safi returned to his home town, Mazar-i-Sharif, in August 1998, he saw regular killings in the street. The Taliban, he said, also stormed a hospital, "shooting the nurses and the patients".

He continued: "Groups of Taliban were known as the death squad and anybody who approached them had to be killed. I could see bodies in the streets and they were starting to smell. I saw the hands of a person in the mouth of a dog."

Mr Safi also blamed the Taliban's oppressive regime on women for the death of his two-year-old son.

"He died because of a very ordinary children's illness (a respiratory problem) but I was not at home and my wife could not take him to hospital. The Taliban would not let her."

He went on to explain how he was once tortured and whipped after being arrested for playing a game of chess – banned by the Taliban. He said: "Six people would beat us. One would hold us down and two people would sit on our legs and they took it in turns to beat us. We were also hit with an angled metal bar."

He also described how he saw a woman stoned to death after she fell out with her in-laws. Mr Safi said: "It was one of the worst experiences of my life," and told how the woman's eight-year-old child begged the Taliban to stop throwing stones at the woman, who was trapped in a hole in the ground. In Kabul, Mr Safi said, he often saw amputated limbs, hung from trees around the city.

The jury was told a group of armed men hijacked an Ariana Air flight, with 165 people on board, and brought it to Stansted in February 2000.

Then, the prosecution said, they held the passengers hostage at the airport for three days before surrendering to the authorities and claiming political asylum.

Mr Safi, 35, Abdul Shohab, 21, Taimur Shah, 28, Muhammed Kazim, 27, Reshad Ahmodi, 23, Nazamuddin Mohammidy, 27, Abdul Ghayur, 24, Mohammed Showaib, 25, Khalil Ullah, 31, and Mohammed Safi, 33, all deny hijacking. The trial continues.