Karzai promises stern justice for killers of minister as pilgrims face further delays

Click to follow

The interim leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, vowed stern justice yesterday for high-ranking officials in his own government who he said had assassinated the country's aviation minister.

Mr Karzai has blamed the minister's death on a personal vendetta among government officials despite initial reports that said he was killed by a mob of Muslim pilgrims at Kabul airport furious over flight delays to Saudi Arabia.

This year's hajj – the annual pilgrimage to Mecca – has become a serious source of contention. Thousands of Afghans have been unable to make the journey because of a lack of flights. Britain, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are sending planes to pick up thousands of pilgrims, but bad weather has caused some of them to be diverted to the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Karachi, Mr Karzai said. But he added "tough work is going on" to get pilgrims on their way.

Peacekeepers have said that 7,000 pilgrims have been issued Saudi visas for the hajj, but only several hundred have been able to travel. "Hajj flights are being given absolute priority over coalition aircraft" in using Afghan airspace, said Jonathan Turner, a spokesman for the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters at the presidential palace in Kabul, Mr Karzai said that more suspects had been arrested for the killing of Abdul Rahman, the aviation and tourism minister. He said that he expected three senior government officials wanted in connection with the minister's death on Thursday would be sent back from Saudi Arabia.

Mr Karzai met with the Saudi ambassador yesterday and said afterwards that two of the suspects were already in Saudi custody. He added that five people were being held in Kabul and two others were being sought.

In another development, US jets bombed a former al-Qai'da training camp near the Pakistan border. Four jets dropped a total of six bombs shortly before dawn in the Khugai area of Paktia province south of Kabul, according to one resident, Munir Hussein Tori. The area is about 15km (9 miles) from the village of Zawar, where US special forces have been seeking al-Qai'da and Taliban renegades.

Officials from the Ministry of Information and Culture said that Afghan soldiers have found a videotape related to Osama bin Laden in the village of Kulangar, in Logar province. They had no details on the content of the tape and did not say when it was found. (AP)

* Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, was arrested several days ago and is being held in Evin prison in the Iranian capital of Tehran, Hayat-e-Nou, a leading Iranian daily newspaper, has reported. Iran's foreign ministry has denied the report.