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Masood Assassination Remembered by Man Wounded in Attack - 2002-09-09

As Americans and others prepare to remember the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Afghans on Monday remembered their own date with terrorism.

On September 9, 2001, suspected al-Qaida terrorists mortally-wounded the charismatic military leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Masood. A survivor of the attack, Masood Khalili, says the death of Commander Masood was a prelude to the attacks in the United States two days later.

With about 300 pieces of shrapnel in his body, the loss of sight in one eye and constant nagging pain, Masood Khalili says he is always reminded of the bomb blast that killed his old friend and confidant Ahmad Shah Masood.

Masood Khalili, Afghanistan's Ambassador to India is an urbane poet, linguist and diplomat. Last September 9, he had traveled to the Northern Alliance stronghold of Khoja Bahauddin, near the Tajikistan border, to meet with Ahmad Shah Masood.

When Commander Masood asked him to translate for two Arab journalists who had been waiting patiently for nearly three weeks to interview the legendary guerilla leader, he readily agreed. As the interview started Masood Khalili says both he and his old friend realized something was terribly wrong.

"I was not suspecting them at all. I was feeling discomfort," he said. "So Commander Masood said, tell me your questions first and then he started telling the questions while I was translating to the commander. I told myself, not loudly, that 15 questions, eight about Osama bin Laden. Then I told the commander that his questions are about Osama but he said, let him finish. He was very discomforted, he became very discomforted his chin was just pressing his chest and the lines in his forehead that were two became five, and he knew he was not feeling good."

Ahmad Shah Masood, the survivor of countless battles and many assassination attempts did not lift his head to look at the two men sitting across from him, but simply told the two men to start the interview. Masood Khalili says he will never forget the look in the cameraman's eyes as the first question was asked.

"The last smile, it was a poisonous smile I will never forget it," he said. "When I watched the cameraman and he said he was ready - I smiled at him to thank him with a smile - saying good, you are ready. His smile to me the way he looked into my eyes, always I will remember that."

As he turned to repeat the question to Commander Masood, Masood Khalili says he felt fire rushing towards his face. He says he knew immediately he and his old friend were about to die.

Later lying in a helicopter that was taking both men to Tajikistan for medical treatment, in a desperate attempt to save their lives, Masood Khalili says he saw Ahmad Shah Masood's face for the last time, covered in blood.

Now, one year later Masood Khalili says he has no doubt that Ahmad Shah Masood's assassination and the September 11 terrorist attacks were linked.

"It is proved that Osama [made] the plan to carry out in New York and in Washington," he said. "That's number one. Number two, they knew that Afghanistan would be the base to stay for a long time. Number three, that America, whatever happened at the Pentagon, or at the White House or New York, even if a lot of people were not killed, they would strike back. They knew also they would start at the base - Osama and the Arabs were in Afghanistan. Whom should they help? Forces on the ground. Who leads those forces? Commander Masood, kill him."

As he marks the one year anniversary of the death of Ahmad Shah Masood, Masood Khalili says he also thinks of the thousands killed in the United States on September 11. Everyone who died on those two days in September he says died for a cause, the defeat of terrorism and the liberation of Afghanistan.