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Afghan minister escapes blast

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 9, 2002

A bomb apparently aimed at the convoy of Afghan Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim killed four people and injured at least 18 Monday in the eastern Afghanistan town of Jalalabad, in what officials believe was another attempt to destabilize the government.

The bomb exploded as Fahim's convoy passed on the way to the provincial governor's office, but no one in Fahim's party was hurt.

Defense Ministry spokesman Mir Jan said the assassination attempt was aimed at destabilizing the interim administration of Hamid Karzai and blamed remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida forces.

But there were other possible sources for the assassination attempt, which coincided with the first day of a new drug eradication program.

The program is aimed at persuading Afghan farmers to destroy heroin-producing poppies for $250 for about 100 square yards. Nangahar province, of which Jalalabad is the capital, is one of the provinces chosen for the program.

Already, the program is running into difficulties. About 40 miles east of Jalalabad, farmers killed one person and injured four when they opened fire on provincial officials surveying their fields.

In other news ...

NO CRIMINAL CHARGES AHEAD: Justice Department officials have decided not to charge the American-born prisoner who was transferred from the Guanatanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison to a Navy brig in Norfolk last week, concluding that the U.S. government lacks enough incriminating information about him to support a criminal prosecution, officials said.

That leaves the detainee, Yaser Esam Hamdi, 22, in legal limbo as government lawyers try to determine whether there is a way to charge him under U.S. military law. Another option is to turn him over to authorities in Saudi Arabia, where he has lived most of his life, government officials said.

Hamdi was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan five months ago while fighting for either al-Qaida or the Taliban, and since then he has told interrogators he was born in Louisiana.

NAVAL FORCES REDUCING: The Pentagon has decided to reduce naval forces committed to the war in Afghanistan by cutting the number of aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea from two to one.

The USS John F. Kennedy will remain in the area but the USS John C. Stennis will depart as scheduled in the next few weeks. The USS Kitty Hawk, which was to have replaced the Stennis, instead will remain in its normal operating area off Japan.

RETURN TO NORMALCY: The U.S. Capitol Police force will return to a more normal work schedule next week for the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks.

About 100 National Guard troops who have assisted police on Capitol Hill since the terrorist attacks also will end that service on Wednesday.

After Sept. 11, all Capitol Police were put on a six-day, 72-hour-a-week schedule.

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