Afghans claim western intelligence tied to journalist execution

With few facts emerging about why a Swedish journalist was gunned down on a crowded street here last week, some Afghan officials have begun offering a familiar theory: A spy war involving Western intelligence agents was to blame..

No officials who offered the theory wanted their names attached to it, and none could say what countries might have been involved in the killing of Nils Horner, 51, a reporter for Swedish Radio. But it opened a new front for speculation in a case swamped with conjecture.

Already, a claim of responsibility by an unconfirmed breakaway Taliban group that accused Mr. Horner of being spy has been received and then widely denied — including by the main Taliban spokesman. The timing of the death, on a day that anti-Western demonstrations broke out during the burial of Vice President Muhammad Qasim Fahim, raised questions about whether growing anger toward foreigners might have led to Mr. Horner’s death, but no further detail supports it.

The biggest break so far in the investigation is video of a suspected gunman and an accomplice running from the scene of the crime. The video was captured by a surveillance camera that was mounted near the street by a Western embassy and not by the Afghan government, Afghan and foreign diplomats said.

Afghan officials now have the video, but have refused to release it. A copy was obtained by the Expressen newspaper of Sweden and posted on its website. The grainy black-and-white video, which Afghan and Western officials said was authentic, shows a pair of men — one in traditional dress, the other in what appears to be a track suit — running down a main street in Kabul’s diplomatic enclave.

The video was taken moments after the shooting, around the time the area had been cordoned off by heavily armed police officers to secure a route for a motorcade carrying senior officials to Mr. Fahim’s burial. The suspects ran toward the cordon and, judging from the video, most likely dashed past several police checkpoints as they escaped onto a narrow side street.

Apart from the video, “the facts are thin,” said a European diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting Afghan officials. “We’re all struggling to explain this.”

Now, some are saying Mr. Horner may have been killed as part of some shadowy intelligence war in Afghanistan waged by foreigners.

The narrative that foreign forces mostly are to blame for Afghanistan’s ills has been a mainstay for President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials. Amid growing nationalism and anxiety about what will happen after Western combat troops leave Afghanistan by year’s end — and a long history of foreign meddling and proxy wars in the country — it may be no surprise that the theory of foreign involvement in the death of Mr. Horner surfaced. Western officials have insisted that Mr. Horner, who was killed Tuesday by a single shot to the head as he stood on a street, was not a spy.

The European diplomat described the claim that Mr. Horner was an intelligence agent, “We’re all tired of people thinking that the Great Game is being played out here every day.”

The allegation first surfaced in a widely disputed claim of responsibility issued by a group calling itself Feday-e-Mahaz, and thought to be an offshoot of the Taliban.

The Taliban have denied taking part in the killing, and did not publicly praise it, as they have in some cases of Western deaths. And Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said Afghan security officials told the president on Sunday that they did not believe the group’s claim of responsibility.

“This was certainly not the work of the Taliban,” Mr. Faizi said in an interview, adding that he did not believe there were any breakaway factions. “They are fictions.”

Mr. Faizi said he could not discuss other specifics of the investigation. But it was moving forward.

Afghan officials linked Mr. Horner’s death to the attack on Taverna du Liban, a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners that suicide attackers struck in January, killing 21 people, most of them foreigners.

Though the Taliban took credit for that attack, Mr. Karzai has suggested that it may be linked to foreigners and not Afghan insurgents. Mr. Horner was shot as he tried to find and interview a chef who had escaped from that Lebanese restaurant, officials said.

“Perhaps there are some of those with fears about what he would find out,” one Afghan official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.

The official emphasized that he was speaking of the possibility that Westerners were responsible in both the restaurant attack and Mr. Horner’s shooting, and not Pakistanis, whom Afghan officials often blame after attacks because of what the official called Pakistan’s clandestine support of the Taliban.


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