PANJSHIR VALLEY, Afghanistan – Hundreds of Afghan officials made a pilgrimage Wednesday to the tomb of Ahmed Shah Massood (search), the Northern Alliance leader whose assassination two years ago was seen as a precursor to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim told the somber crowd that Afghanistan was slowly realizing a goal of the former Northern Alliance leader — a truly representative government.
After a loya jirga (search), or grand council, convenes in December to approve a new constitution, elections would put in place a government that "belongs to the people of Afghanistan," he said.
"In this way we will face up to the conspiracy and cheating by enemies of Islam and Afghanistan," Fahim said, apparently referring to the Taliban regime that U.S. forces ousted in late 2001.
Remnants of that regime still are waging a rebellion inside Afghanistan.
Fahim and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani joined more than 1,500 people at the ceremony at Massood's domed, hilltop mausoleum in the Panjshir Valley (search), about 90 miles north of Kabul. On Tuesday, thousands gathered there and in the capital, Kabul, to remember Massood.
Massood, known as the "Lion of Panjshir," was killed by Algerian assassins posing as Belgian journalists who planted a bomb inside a camera that detonated during a Sept. 9, 2001, interview.
The attack, allegedly carried out by Al Qaeda, was believed to have been timed to take out the main opposition leader to the then-ruling Taliban just before the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. The Taliban had given sanctuary in Afghanistan to Usama bin Laden and his terror network.
Massood fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and then led the northern-based forces that battled the Taliban in the late 1990s. The alliance swept to power after the Taliban fell.
The government of President Hamid Karzai now faces a major challenge in wresting control of much of the country from commanders, such as Fahim, who have their own powerful private militias.