South Asia

'Rabbani killer duped us with peace CD' - Hamid Karzai

Mourners in Kabul, 21 Sept
Image caption Mr Rabbani had been meeting Taliban commanders when he died

Officials at the very highest levels were deceived by the suicide bomber who killed Afghanistan's peace talks chief, President Hamid Karzai says.

Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed in his own home on Tuesday while meeting two men claiming to be from the Taliban.

The attacker purported to have a "message of peace" from the Taliban and had sent a CD which even the president heard, to get access to Mr Rabbani.

Officials say they believed the message would signal a major breakthrough.

"It was not a peace message. It was a trick," President Karzai told reporters after he cut short his visit to the US following the killing.

"The messenger was the killer," he is quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying.

The death of Mr Rabbani, who was chair of the country's High Peace Council and a former president, is a severe blow for the Afghan president and analysts say it could be the biggest setback for peace in Afghanistan for years.

No group has said it carried out the attack but Afghan intelligence officials say they believe it must have taken months to plan.

On Wednesday, the Taliban issued their first public statement on the killing, saying they did not want to comment.

Turban bomber

President Karzai said that before he left for the US last weekend one of his advisers, Masoom Stanakzai, who was also injured in the blast told him that the Taliban had an significant message for the High Peace Council.

They had sent an audio recording to the peace council: "There were a couple of questions and suggestions mentioned regarding peace," Mr Karzai is quoted by the AP news agency as saying.

Officials have said Mr Stanakzai was very optimistic about the contents of the CD. A document found by investigators in the pocket of the suicide bomber, and shown to the BBC, is a transcript of the CD.

The peace council had been in touch with a man purporting to represent the Taliban high command based in the Pakistani city of Quetta, and who said he would send a messenger to Kabul.

''Mr. Masoom Stanakzai believed that the High Peace Council was on the verge of a major breakthrough. That it was achieving something big. The visitors had stayed at a High Peace Council Guest House for several days," an intelligence official told the BBC's Bilal Sarwary.

Mr Rabbani cut short a visit to Dubai on hearing that the visitors were waiting for him and within an hour of arriving in Kabul, Mr Rabbani went to his house to meet them.

The two men went to embrace Mr Rabbani, and one of them then detonated a bomb concealed in his turban.

Series of assassinations

When the High Peace Council was set up in October 2010, Mr Karzai described it as the greatest hope for the Afghan people and called on the Taliban to seize the opportunity and help bring peace.

But many members of the council are former warlords who spent years fighting the Taliban and their inclusion led to doubts as to whether it could succeed in its mission.

Our correspondent says Mr Rabbani's appointment as head was a surprise. Some had even called for him to be indicted for war crimes in his previous role with the mujahideen.

In the 1970s it was Mr Rabbani who founded the parties that ended up becoming the Afghan mujahideen who took on the Soviets, and many blame him and his friends for the death and destruction of the civil war days.

Mr Rabbani was ousted as president by the Taliban in 1996. After that he became the nominal head of the Northern Alliance.

When they swept back into Kabul, backed by US forces, and toppled the Taliban in 2001, he was still recognised by the UN as the official president of Afghanistan.

The killing is the latest in a series of assassinations of senior figures.

In July, President Karzai's half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai was killed at his home in Kandahar. Two months earlier, Gen Daud Daud, the top police commander in northern Afghanistan was killed in a suicide bomb attack.