KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghans on Monday honored a rebel leader who was slain two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and whose fellow fighters helped the U.S. overthrow the Taliban government.
The annual commemoration marks the anniversary of the death of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a legendary ethnic Tajik commander of the Northern Alliance. He remains widely admired in this country for his resistance to Soviet rule as well as to the Taliban, whose harsh interpretation of Islam made life unbearable for numerous Afghans in the late 1990s.
Massoud was killed on Sept. 9, 2001, by al-Qaida suicide bombers posing as journalists, an assassination suspected of being linked to the later attacks on the United States. His once beleaguered forces routed the Taliban with the support of U.S. air power in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.
On Monday, Afghans held memorial events honoring Massoud and his picture was plastered on even more buildings than normal. Officials also placed wreaths at a monument in Kabul dedicated to him.
Among those who honored Massoud were other well-known Afghan militia leaders. The forces of many Afghan warlords, including those of Massoud, were accused of committing atrocities, including during the Afghan civil war in the early 1990s before the Taliban seized the government.
Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf — a white-bearded commander alleged to have supported Arab fighters who flocked to Afghanistan to resist the Soviets in the 1980s — took the stage in one major ceremony. He blasted the Taliban as "servants of foreigners."
The Taliban "are committing crimes against humanity, against Islam and against Afghanistan," said Sayyaf, who also is a rumored presidential candidate. "They are not Afghans."
The Taliban have stepped up their activity in recent months as U.S.-led foreign troops have reduced their presence in Afghanistan, and the anniversary of Massoud's death is always a sensitive day for security.
According to Javed Faisal, spokesman for the Kandahar province governor, two suicide bombers wearing police uniforms tried to stage an attack in the southern province's Panjwai district around 11 a.m. Monday. Police shot the pair dead, Faisal said.
Associated Press Writer Mirwais Khan contributed to this report from Kandahar.