Burhanuddin Rabbani Killer Presented President Fake Taliban Peace Offer

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BURNAHUDDIN RABBANI KILLER
An Afghan policeman keeps watch near a poster of the slain head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul on September 22, 2011. | Getty

KABUL, Afghanistan — Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani extended a hand to his assassin and greeted him at his home with the words "Welcome. Welcome."

Rabbani thought his guest was carrying a message of peace from the Taliban. Instead, the man was a suicide attacker.

The attacker bowed his head in respect of the 70-year-old ex-president who headed the Afghan peace council. A split second later, he detonated a bomb hidden inside his turban.

"We heard a boom," said Rahamtullah Wahedyar, a member of the Afghan peace council who was in the room where the explosion occurred Tuesday evening in Kabul.

New details that emerged Thursday showed how carefully the assassins laid the groundwork for the bombing.

Wahedyar told reporters Thursday that the blast knocked him to the floor. When he regained consciousness, Rabbani and a top peace council official wounded in the attack had already been carried out of the room. The body of the headless suicide attacker still lay on the first floor of Rabbani's house, Wahedyar said.

The attackers used an audio recording to trick their way into Rabbani's home.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who also spoke to reporters Thursday, said that before he left for New York last weekend, one of his advisers, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, told him that the Taliban had a message for the Afghan peace council.

The president listened to the audio.

Karzai said the voice on the recording spoke respectfully about Rabbani. It also contained "a couple of questions and suggestions" regarding peace, the president said.

Karzai said he spoke on the phone with Rabbani, who was rushing back home from a trip to Iran to meet the alleged Taliban envoy.

"It was not a peace message. It was a trick," a somber Karzai told reporters in a courtyard of the presidential palace. "The messenger was the killer."

The assassination, which dealt a severe setback to efforts of negotiating a peace settlement with the Taliban, took just minutes to execute.

But the killing had been carefully plotted for four months by the Afghan Taliban's governing council known as the Quetta Shura, named after a city in Pakistan, said Shafiqullah Tahiri, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service.

The Taliban has not claimed responsibility for Rabbani's death. Spokesmen for the insurgents won't discuss the killing.

Wahedyar said the council was in contact for four months with an alleged Taliban representative – a man he identified only as Hamidullah. Wahedyar and Afghan government officials believed they were pursuing a legitimate lead. The contact claimed to represent the Quetta Shura and traveled to Kabul for talks with Rabbani and Stanekzai.

In early September, Wahedyar said Hamidullah called and said: "The Taliban shura wants to officially start peace talks with the Afghan government."

Hamidullah said, however, that the Taliban wanted to appoint someone else to deliver an important message to Rabbani.

About three days later, the assassin called Wahedyar and identified himself as the new Taliban envoy. He told Wahedyar that he would call him when he arrived in Afghanistan. Wahedyar called Stanekzai with the news.

Wahedyar met the assassin – identified as Esmatullah – at a bus station in the capital and took him to a guest house the peace council used for visitors. He said Stanekzai asked his secretary to call the guest house to make sure the visitor was provided with a good accommodations.

The day after arriving in Kabul, Stanekzai and Wahedyar met the assassin in Stanekzai's office. During the meeting, the assassin handed over a computerized audio recording allegedly made by Taliban leaders that called for the removal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to "moral corruption" in the country. Stanekzai later shared the recording with Karzai.

The assassin said he had a second recording with a "special" message for Rabbani. A meeting with Rabbani was arranged.

Wahedyar picked up the assassin at the guest house and took him to Rabbani's house late Tuesday afternoon. There, Rabbani's secretary said he wanted to search the unknown visitor. Wahedyar volunteered to be the first person searched. Another member of Rabbani's staff also asked to search the bomber, but when Rabbani's secretary headed into the house, the bomber followed without being searched, Wahedyar said.

"Rabbani was very kind. He was standing and he extended his hand and said `Welcome. Welcome,'" Wahedyar said.

Then the bomb in Esmatullah's turban exploded.

The former Afghan president was killed. He will be buried Friday. Stanekzai remains hospitalized. Wahedyar is nursing injuries to his face and body.

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Associated Press Writer Christopher Torchia in Kabul and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

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