Afghan police arrest 16 people accused of plotting suicide, rocket attacks in Kabul

KABUL (AP) — Afghan police in recent weeks have arrested 16 people who were plotting suicide and rocket attacks in the capital and are hunting for other suspects, top security officials said Thursday.

The officials hailed the arrests as a sign that the ability of police to uncover such plots is improving and bringing more stability to the country.

Interior Minister Hanif Atmar said all but two of the suspects were detained in Kabul, and six were Pakistani nationals.

Kabul police Chief Abdul Rahman Rahman said the suspects admitted to investigators that they had ties to two al-Qaida-linked groups, Hizb-i-Islami and the Haqqani network.

"Of course, it is a big victory," Rahman told The Associated Press. He credited improved police intelligence cooperation inside and outside the city and said that citizens are increasingly trusting and cooperating with authorities.

Rahman said members of the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban group based in Pakistan, were planning suicide attacks in the capital. Members of Hezb-i-Islami, led by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, were planning rocket attacks, he said.

The suicide attacks were to target government offices, a university and police headquarters, he said. Authorities were led to the suspects as part of an investigation into a roadside bombing in the capital's Musayi district that killed two officers, Rahman said.

"In the space of 24 hours, they confessed and gave more names — and in the coming weeks, God willing, I hope that more suspects will be arrested," he said.

The arrests suggest the security situation in Kabul could be improving, Rahman said. "But the enemy is looking for a (security) hole to infiltrate" and are willing to wait weeks or months to plan and conduct attacks, he added.

The officials were speaking on the sidelines of a ceremony honoring new elite officers who completed a 22-week training program led by French gendarmes with expertise in both military and police techniques.

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux attended the ceremonies to congratulate the 50 cadets, who trained in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif under the European Gendarmerie Force program.

Hortefeux said France in the coming days would send 40 more gendarmes to a new police training site in the central Wardak region, bringing the total commitment of French gendarme trainers to 190 in Afghanistan.

Hortefeux also said Atmar had told him that Afghan authorities had received "tangible proof" that two France-3 television journalists kidnapped in eastern Afghanistan on Dec. 30 were "alive and in good health." He declined to elaborate, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

Separately, NATO announced a service member was killed Thursday by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan. The death came a day after another service member died in a small-arms attack in the south.

The international force did not identify the victims or their nationalities. Eight NATO members have been killed in Afghanistan so far this month.

The alliance is gearing up for a military campaign this summer in the south. The U.S.-led operation will try to clear the southern city of Kandahar of Taliban fighters in what will be a critical test of the war.

Also Thursday, hundreds of Afghans shouting "Death to Iran" gathered outside the Iranian Embassy in Kabul, saying Afghan refugees who live in the country face abuse. About 1 million Afghan refugees live in Iran.