Karzai reveals minister was killed by rivals

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Afghanistan's minister of aviation was assassinated by a rival faction within the country's interim government, and not by a lynch mob of pilgrims furious at a two-day flight delay, the interim leader, Hamid Karzai, said yesterday.

The killing of the minister, who was beaten to death at Kabul airport on Thursday, had already highlighted the government's inability to uphold law and order even within the capital. But the full extent of the disaster for the government, which is made up of rival ethnic groups, only became apparent with Mr Karzai's hastily convened news conference.

Ironically, he had been discussing the mission of the international peace-keeping force with the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, earlier in the day.

The aviation minister, Abdul Rahman, was murdered as a result of a conspiracy involving five high government officials who had fled to Saudi Arabia, Mr Karzai said. Three plotters have been arrested.

"He was killed by people who planned it. It had nothing to do with hajjis," (the pilgrims on their way to Mecca who were frustrated at the travel delay), he stressed.

The plotters included a general in charge of Afghanistan's intelligence ministry and one from the defence ministry, while the others were from the intelligence and justice ministries.

According to Mr Karzai, the blood feud between Mr Rahman and his murderers went back to the days of the resistance against the Taliban. All five were from a faction of the Northern Alliance which Mr Rahman left in order to join a group loyal to the exiled king, Mohammed Zahir Shah.

Earlier reports said that the minister had been lynched by an enraged crowd of pilgrims, who rushed up the steps to Mr Rahman's plane and boarded it. Inside they were said to have seized Mr Rahman, who was on his way to Delhi, and beat him to death, before tossing his body out of the aircraft.