KABUL, Afghanistan – A former Taliban official says Usama bin Laden personally ordered the assassination of Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massood in an attempt to cripple the Northern Alliance days before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Massood, military chief of the Northern Alliance and the most charismatic figure in the anti-Taliban movement, was mortally wounded Sept. 9 when two suicide attackers posing as television reporters exploded a bomb during an interview in the northern Afghan town of Khodja Bahauddin.
Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, one of the founders of the Taliban and the Islamic militia's one-time intelligence chief, told The Associated Press that bin Laden had ordered two suicide bombers diverted from a trip to Indonesia to carry out the mission.
Khaksar said that on the day of the attack on Massood, he had gone to the home of Taliban Interior Minister Abdul Razzak to pay respects on the death of Razzak's father. Two Saudis who Khaksar believed were Al Qaeda members were at the wake.
Khaksar, who at the time was deputy interior minister, said the two unidentified Saudis told him of bin Laden's role and assured him that Massood was dead, even though the Northern Alliance was insisting that Massood had only been gravely injured.
The alliance withheld confirmation of Massood's death for 48 hours until a successor -- the current Afghan defense minister Mohammed Fahim -- could be chosen.
"They said 'no, believe me he is gone,'" Khaksar said, referring to Massood. "They also said that he was killed by two Arabs who were supposed to go to Indonesia but were ordered to go to Massood and kill him. The order came from Usama. He canceled their trip to Indonesia."
The United States has said it believes bin Laden had foreknowledge of the plot to kill Massood, but has not said what level of involvement he had in the plot.
The assassins were traveling on Belgian passports, and in January police in Paris arrested two men for providing false documents to Massood's killers.
The French authorities believed the passports were stolen from the Belgian consulate in Strasbourg, France or its embassy in The Hague, Netherlands.
Massood's death was a severe blow to the Northern Alliance, which had been losing ground to the Taliban in fighting in the north. The alliance was saved from disaster when the United States launched its air campaign against the Taliban on Oct. 7, enabling the factious coalition to seize control of the country by the year's end.
There has been wide speculation that bin Laden may have killed Massood to ingratiate himself further with Taliban leader Mohammed Omar to ensure his protection if the Americans retaliated for the attacks he knew were only days away in the United States. But this is the first time a member of the Taliban has discussed bin Laden's role in the killing.
Although Sept. 11 was only two days away, Khaksar said no one at the wake spoke of anything unusual in the works, and most of the conversation focused on Massood, the Taliban's mortal enemy.
"No one talked about Sept. 11 or said that anything was going to happen," Khaksar said in the interview. "I think that it was so secret that no one knew."
Khaksar, who broke with the Taliban after the fall of Kabul in November, said the Taliban leadership was convinced bin Laden was behind the Sept. 11 attacks. At the time, he said, Al Qaeda seemed invincible.
"Their morale was high," Khaksar said. "They believed Usama was strong because the world was afraid of him."