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Journalists see site of alleged attack

The Taliban holds angry residents at bay in a town where it says almost 200 civilians died.

©Associated Press,
published October 15, 2001

KARAM, Afghanistan -- Waving shovels and sticks, enraged villagers surged toward foreign journalists brought here Sunday by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia to see what officials say was the devastation of a U.S. air attack.

"They are coming to kill us! They are coming for information, to tell the planes where to bomb!" angry and terrified villagers shouted as they charged the reporters. Taliban escorts held them back.

Sunday's trip to the village of Karam in Afghanistan's eastern mountains marked the first time since the U.S.-led air campaign began Oct. 7 that the Taliban has allowed international journalists into areas controlled by the Islamic militia.

The Taliban, who escorted journalists to the village, claims nearly 200 people were killed here Thursday. If true, it would be the deadliest single strike by U.S. and British warplanes.

"They are innocent people living here," villager Gul Mohammed said. "There is no military base. What is it they are looking for in Afghanistan? Where is Osama bin Laden? He is not here. Why did they bomb us?"

The small village had been hit by explosions. Several houses were damaged or reduced to rubble, and several bomb craters were dug into the rocky landscape. Dozens of sheep and goat carcasses were strewn about, the air thick with a rancid stench.

But it was difficult to assess claims of casualty figures three days after the attack. Muslims traditionally bury their dead quickly. Villagers pointed out what they called traces of the attack's deadliness, including a bloodstained pillowcase by a house and what appeared to be a rotting human limb.

Washington has expressed regret for civilian victims in its airstrikes, saying it doesn't target noncombatants. It has acknowledged that a stray bomb hit homes outside Kabul last week but has said it can't verify the alleged Karam attack.

In the hospital in Jalalabad, 25 miles to the east, doctors treated what they said were 23 victims of bombing at Karam. One was a child, 2 months old, swathed in bloody bandages.

Another child, Samina, played with two apples on her hospital bed. Neighbors brought the 5-year-old to the hospital after Thursday's bombing killed her entire family. When she was better, Dr. Hashok Ullah said, hospital workers would send the girl to an orphanage.

Unsmiling and silent, Samina stared out at strangers Sunday from under a cap of head bandages.

"She just doesn't speak," Ullah said. "She hasn't spoken since she came in."

A father, Ahmanzai, lay in one bed hugging his wailing 11/2-year-old son, Azizullah, both of them bandaged against burns and wounds from what villagers said was a second bombing run in the area of Karam on Saturday.

Female victims lay behind the locked door of the women's ward. Inside, doctors folded back one woman's enveloping black shawl to show her wound: a head injury, sustained in the same attack they said killed her two children Thursday.

At least 18 fresh graves were scattered about the village, marked with jagged pieces of gray slate. Two were tiny, freshly dug for what residents said were children. Villagers said more bodies were buried up in the mountains, taken there by residents as they fled the mostly deserted community.

An old man knelt by one grave in the village, sobbing. He looked up, furiously, at journalists and their cameras and lobbed stones to drive the outsiders away.

One villager, Toray, stood by the ruins of his former home, its roof gone. He clutched a scrap of metal bearing the words "fin-guided missile" in English.

Toray, who uses only one name, said he lost his five children and his wife when the warplanes came. "I was asleep down there in the morning, when they bombed," he said, gesturing toward the base of the mountain.

Scratching his dust-caked beard, he looked toward his house and asked, "What do I have left? Nothing."

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