From trusted Karzai aide to cold-blooded assassin

Sardar Mohammed shot Ahmed Wali Karzai dead at point blank range in his own home.

Last Updated: Jul 14, 2011, 13:20 PM IST

Kandahar: Stunned by the assassination of one of the nation`s most powerful men, friends of the Afghan President`s slain brother are piecing together how a trusted aide became a cold-blooded killer.

Sardar Mohammed, the assassin who shot Ahmed Wali Karzai dead at point blank range in his own home on Tuesday, was head of security for the southern Afghanistan powerbroker and the pair had been close for decades.

But neighbours and acquaintances also painted a picture of Mohammed as a man with drug problems who was prone to violent rages, while at the same time he hated the Taliban who have claimed credit for the killing.

In a society such as Afghanistan, where clan and tribe count for so much, people have been especially shocked that Wali Karzai -- reputed to have more enemies than friends -- was killed by such a close associate.

Mohammed was the commander of a force of some 200 bodyguards who looked after the upmarket neighbourhood housing the younger Karzai`s large extended family.

"He was also from the Popalzai tribe and was AWK`s most trusted guy," said Agha Lalai Dastagiri, who sits on the Kandahar provincial council that was led by Wali Karzai who is widely known by his initials.

In exile, he said, Mohammed lived alongside the two Karzai brothers and their father in neighbouring Pakistan where the Karzais had formed an anti-Soviet resistance movement and later an anti-Taliban one in the 1990s.

Wali Karzai was himself dogged by allegations of links to the drugs trade, and Dastagiri said Mohammed had to be treated for erratic behaviour linked to drug use.

"Sardar was addicted to hashish and developed psychological problems more than a year ago. AWK sent him twice to India for treatment this year, but he was still always angry and violent and smoking hashish," he said.

"He was a very argumentative person, quick to fight, but Sardar was so close to AWK that he was always allowed to meet him while armed."

The Taliban claimed to have turned Mohammad, but those who knew him said he was a very unlikely insurgent.

Mohammed`s neighbours in his village of Karz, which was also the ancestral home of the Karzais, described a similar picture of an aggressive but fiercely anti-Taliban figure.

"I don`t think that he could be recruited by Taliban, as he was very hostile towards them. But he was smoking and drinking a lot and was always looking for a pretext to fight with somebody," said neighbour Abdul Khaliq Mohmand.

Rumours have circulated in the village that Mohammed, the son of a judge, had killed two guards earlier this year but managed to pin the blame on someone else, Mohmand said.

Kandahar Governor Tooryalai Wesa, a close associate of Wali Karzai, also claimed Mohammed was addicted to drugs and had gone to India for treatment, but cast doubt on any link between his addiction and the murder.

"We believe that it was a bigger plot. We think one of the neighbouring countries has a hand in the assassination of Ahmad Wali Karzai," said Wesa, referring to widespread local suspicions of a foreign conspiracy.

Wesa said the killer -- believed to be aged in his late 30s or early 40s -- was a "trusted guy" with the entire Karzai family.

Shedding more light on the killing, Dastagiri said he had also been a guest in Karzai`s house at the time, talking to him along with a group of elders when Mohammed turned up.

A bodyguard informed Wali Karzai that Mohammed had requested an urgent meeting and he agreed, leaving the room to meet him in private.

"Moments later we heard three shots from the room. The first bodyguard that entered the room was also killed by Sardar," said Dastagiri, becoming the first to mention a second death alongside Wali Karzai.

"I asked the guards to capture Sardar alive but he was shooting, so the other bodyguards killed him. Ahmed Wali Karzai was shot three times, one bullet behind his ear, the second in his chest and a third bullet to his hand."

An investigation is ongoing to find out precisely what motivated Mohammed to turn on his old friend, and Dastagiri said 12 people, including members of Mohammed`s family and his security team had been arrested.

Recalling old Taliban tactics, a reporter said the assassin`s body was strung up in public, in two different squares for about half an hour on Tuesday.

Bureau Report