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Tense Situation in Kabul Following Minister's Killing - 2002-02-16

Afghanistan's top leaders attended funeral services Saturday for the country's slain aviation and tourism minister and vowed to pursue his killers. The minister was killed at Kabul airport Thursday night in what the government is describing as a well planned assassination.

Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Abdullah, Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni and Defense chief Mohammed Fahim were among those accompanying the funeral procession.

Earlier in the day, friends and family had gathered at the home of slain Aviation and Tourism Minister Abdul Rahman to pay their last respects.

The minister was killed Thursday in what was initially described as a spontaneous attack by a mob of Muslim pilgrims, angered over delays in flights to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. But late Friday, Mr. Karzai said the minister's death had nothing to do with the pilgrims, but was instead part of a well planned vendetta. He said the plot stemmed from a feud over factional differences, dating back to the years of resistance against the Taleban. Mr. Karzai said several senior government and security officials were involved.

Three people have already been arrested and three others are believed to have fled to Saudi Arabia, posing as pilgrims on their way to Mecca. According to a senior U.S. official the Saudi government has said it would return the three if they are found.

Minister Abdul Rahman's death highlights the precarious security situation in Afghanistan and the difficulty in establishing a united, cohesive government in a country rife with factional and tribal tensions.

Concerns about security increased further after news that unidentified gunmen had fired on British troops at one of their observations posts in Kabul early Saturday. The troops returned fire and the gunmen apparently fled by car. British soldiers later found a dead man and five injured people in a house near the scene.

It was the first time international security forces have come under attack since they first arrived in Afghanistan in December.