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Peacekeepers in Afghanistan Worried About Possible al-Qaida Suicide Attacks - 2002-04-20

British military officials in Afghanistan say they believe Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network is planning suicide attacks on foreign troops providing security in the country and against the Afghan interim administration.

British Army spokesman, Tom Rounds, said intelligence gathered over the past two weeks strongly suggest that al-Qaida terroristsare scheming to enter coalition military bases and government installations by posing as journalists, a tactic used to kill former Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Masood. "If you recall, Masood was killed by a suicide bomber with a camera. And current intelligence indicates that is highly likely one of the ways they will try to infiltrate," he said.

Two days before the September terrorists attacks in the United States, two men posing as a Belgian television crew detonated a bomb in front of Ahmed Shah Massood, the former mujahedin leader and revered commander of the anti-taleban Northern Alliance. The attackers are believed to have been al-Qaida members sent to deal a blow to the Northern Alliance command structure.

Squadron Leader Rounds said while last month's U.S.-led military operation may have fractured the terrorist network's fighting force in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the organization still has cells in various places around the country. "What we're seeing and experiencing out there are smaller bands of fighters moving out and being engaged. We need to be on our guard," he said. "It is a very real threat."

Coalition officials believe the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, could also be a target of an al-Qaida attack. Zahir Shah returned to Afghanistan two days ago from nearly 30 years in exile - primarily to open the grand council meeting, the Loya Jirga, in June to select a new government. Opponents of the Loya Jirga have reportedly made death threats against the former monarch, who has become a symbol of Afghan unity.

All journalists in Afghanistan are now subject to intense scrutiny and must carry proper identification with them at all times. Americans in Afghanistan have also been warned that al-Qaida has renewed its offer to pay a $50,000 dollar reward for every American captured alive. It will pay $30,000 for every Westerner who is killed.

In Kabul, gunmen again targeted international peacekeepers during a routine patrol. Spokesmen for I-SAF - as the peacekeeping force is known - say four men fired on French peacekeepers Friday night near the airport, leaving onesoldier slightly wounded. The gunmen escaped.

I-SAF in recent weeks has been the target of multiple shootings and a rocket attack. It is not clear who was behind the latest attack, but peacekeepers believe common criminals and opponents of the political process in Afghanistan are responsible for the on-going security problems in the capital.