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Subject: Karzai ally killed in attack blamed on Taliban

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Date Posted: April 06, 2003 4:56:59 EDT

A close ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was gunned down in southern Afghanistan in an attack provincial officials blamed on the Taliban Saturday.

Haji Gilani and his nephew were killed outside their home in the town of Deh Rawood on Thursday night by six gunmen, said Dad Mullah, a spokesman for the Uruzgan provincial government.

Uruzgan governor Jan Mohammed told The Associated Press police have identified one of the suspected gunmen as Mardan Khan, whose brother was a Taliban commander. Witnesses reported seeing Khan flee the village after the attack. Police were investigating and no arrests have been made.

But Karzai's spokesman said a tribal feud may have been the motive.

"This was not a political murder. There was some enmity, some personal differences between two villages or two tribes," presidential spokesman Sayed Fazel Akbar said.

Gilani was the first man to give Karzai shelter in the province of Uruzgan as he launched his anti-Taliban revolt weeks before the religious militia collapsed under heavy U.S. bombing in late 2001.

Karzai entered Afghanistan secretly with only a handful of close followers and relied heavily on anti-Taliban sympathizers for support and protection. He slipped past Taliban checkpoints on the back of motorcycles, and lived for days in homes of followers who risked their lives to protect him and helped rally support against the Taliban.

Akbar said Karzai had asked his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai -- who serves as the president's representative in the southern city of Kandahar -- to attend memorial services.

"He was a friend of Karzai and we are so sorry for this unhappy incident," Akbar said.

Taliban fighters have staged attacks several times in southern Afghanistan in recent weeks. An International Red Cross worker was gunned down and two American servicemen were killed when a U.S. military convoy was ambushed.

On Saturday, Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha Sherzai gave Taliban loyalists in his unruly province 48 hours to leave the country. The warning came hours after his soldiers killed two Taliban fighters and captured seven others with bombs and ammunition near the town of Spinboldak on the Pakistan border.

In a separate raid on a Taliban hide-out Saturday, Sherzai said two men were caught with remote control explosives near a U.S. base in Kandahar.

There are fears that Taliban remnants are reorganizing in an effort to destabilize Karzai's government. There have been several pamphlets, so-called "night letters," warning Afghans against working with foreigners and threatening those that do with death.

A new edict purportedly issued by fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar just two weeks ago threatened more attacks, declared a holy war against international forces and told Afghans they would be considered enemies if they keep working with the government.

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