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Kabul Airport Tightens Security - 2002-02-15


Security is tight at Kabul airport, a day after Afghanistan's interim minister of air transport and tourism was killed by an angry mob of Muslim pilgrims, apparently frustrated over delays in flights to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Interior ministry police and soldiers armed with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades surrounded the airport and were restricting access Friday morning.

A general in charge of security told VOA his men are there to prevent a repeat of Thursday's incident. General Mir Jawan said he did not see what happened.

General Mir Jawan said "he had been told that Minister Abdul Rahman was set upon by a mob of pilgrims, angry over delays in flights to the Islamic holy city of Mecca for the annual holy pilgrimage, the haj."

Afghan officials are quoted as saying the minister had gone to the airport to embark on an official mission to India. They say his plane was surrounded by angry pilgrims and a standoff ensued for several hours.

Some officials are quoted as saying that when the minister came out of the plane to try to calm the crowd, he was beaten by the mob. Mr. Rahman was injured and taken to a local hospital where he later died.

Hundreds of frustrated Afghans were still waiting Friday to board a flight to Mecca.

Some of the men told VOA they saw what happened and described events somewhat differently. Some said that the minister was dragged out of the plane by the mob and was then beaten and, some said, trampled.

The pilgrims were still clearly upset about the delays in getting the flights they said the government had promised them.

They said they had all paid money up front to go on the pilgrimage and they blamed the government for not providing adequate facilities for them as they waited.

Some of the men said that two pilgrims had died from the cold, but that has not been independently confirmed.

Soldiers at the airport were talking to the crowd trying to calm tensions. Foreign troops based at the airport said they knew of Thursday's incident, but had not been involved in what happened. Several thousand international security forces are in Kabul to help keep order.

Minister Abdul Rahman's family and friends gathered at his home Friday morning, shocked at the news of his death. The funeral is scheduled for Saturday. The government says it has launched an investigation into the minister's death.