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3 Arrested for Attack on Afghan President  - 2004-09-17

Officials in Afghanistan say they have arrested three men for firing a rocket at President Hamid Karzai's helicopter on Thursday. The president was unharmed by the attack.

A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry says police captured the three men, all in their early 20's, where the rocket was fired near the southeastern city of Gardez.

The spokesman, Lutfullah Mashal, said Friday that two of the men have confessed to firing the rocket. Pro-Taleban militias are also claiming responsibility.

Mr. Mashal says the investigation is in its early stages, but evidence indicates those arrested might be members of the Taleban, the strict Islamic group that governed Afghanistan until the United States and its allies ousted the regime three years ago.

"The investigation is still going on, but their outfit and clothing and physical structure look like they might be Taleban," said Lutfullah Mashal.

Police also discovered bombmaking tools and equipment in the suspects' hideout, about nine kilometers from Gardez.

The rocket narrowly missed President Hamid Karzai's helicopter, as he traveled to a campaign stop in Gardez, his first outside the relatively safe capital of Kabul. Mr. Karzai returned to Kabul immediately after the attack. He has been heavily guarded by U.S. and Afghan security forces since taking office more than two years ago.

On Thursday, the U.S.-backed president denied allegations that his failure to reach Gardez weakened his political standing in the area.

Mr. Karzai says he is confident he will win the election on October 9, but recent reports suggest the election could be close enough to force a second round of voting.

"We are entering an era of democracy in Afghanistan," he said. "First round, or second round, I am very much hopeful that I will win."

Remnants of the Taleban and their allies in the al-Qaida terror network have vowed to disrupt the presidential election.

For months, security for the elections has been a concern, but the interim government insists that the elections will proceed.