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Afghan Officials Probe Explosion

August 10, 2002

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JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AP) _ A terrorist plot or an accident? And if a plot, did the explosives detonate prematurely?

Afghan authorities sought answers Saturday in a devastating explosion at a construction company that killed up to 25 people, destroyed dozens of surrounding homes and knocked out power to this eastern Afghan city by damaging the lines from a nearby hydroelectric dam. Up to 90 people were reported injured.

Military officers at the scene _ a crater where a warehouse stood, wrecked homes in all directions _ believed the explosion at midday Friday was the work of resurgent al-Qaida terrorists.

``It’s very obvious that it was an act of al-Qaida,″ Maj. Abdul Qayoom Azimi told a reporter. ``Nobody else can do such a thing. They want to disturb our people and normality.″

Azimi said authorities had recently stationed extra security at the Doronta dam, 200 yards from the construction warehouse, after receiving information that there would be an attempt to sabotage the power site. He believed that terrorists had assembled explosives in the nearby building over time, and they were either deliberately or accidentally set off.

Another officer, Mohammad Sultan, commander in the affected district, said he believed an explosives-laden car was detonated in a basement garage of the building.

Earlier, the deputy governor of Jalalabad’s Nangarhar province offered still another theory. Mohammed Assef Qazi Zada was quoted as suggesting the company itself, involved in road-building and other public works projects, had stored explosives that may have gone off accidentally.

An investigation was under way, and company employees were taken into custody for questioning.

The Nangarhar hospital Friday evening was a scene of mayhem, as dozens of poor residents of the western Jalalabad district, many of them children, were treated for injuries that were in some cases severe. Fifty-four of 90 patients received were admitted to the hospital, the others being treated and released, said hospital deputy director Dr. Gulojan Wadat Shinwari.

He said four workers of the construction company, the Afghan Construction and Logistics Unit, were among the injured, indicating the vast majority were people from the neighborhood.

``I just heard a very big noise,″ said an injured 10-year-old girl named Aziza. ``After that, I didn’t know what happened to me or where I was.″

Police and military officials in Jalalabad, 70 miles east of Kabul, the Afghan capital, initially put the death toll at about a dozen, but national television reported Friday evening it had reached 25. Some security sources late Friday put the toll at 21.

The blast destroyed 50 homes and damaged 500 others, some as far as 500 yards away, commander Sultan said. A 60-foot-wide hole was blown in the ground, and the remains of the construction company building burned for hours.

Afghan Construction and Logistics Unit was founded as a non-governmental service organization with U.S. funding, but U.S. support was withdrawn about a decade ago. It has since continued operations as a private company fulfilling contracts from international organizations.

The fear of terrorism by Taliban or al-Qaida remnants runs high in Nangarhar province and much of the rest of Afghanistan eight months after a U.S.-led military campaign brought down Afghanistan’s Taliban government.

A series of incidents have put Afghan security forces on alert, including the unsolved assassination of the longtime Nangarhar governor, Haji Abdul Qadir, a national vice president, on July 6 in Kabul, and the reported capture of a would-be suicide car bomber in the capital three weeks later.

In April, the new Afghan defense minister, Mohammad Fahim, escaped injury when a bomb exploded near his convoy in Jalalabad. Five people were killed in that blast.

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