South Asia

Taliban behind brutal Afghan bank attack unrepentant

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Media captionA Taliban member, who carried out one of the most brutal attacks in the war in Afghanistan, has spoken to the BBC

In one of the most brutal Taliban attacks in nearly 10 years of war in Afghanistan, a gunman entered a bank in the eastern city of Jalalabad on 19 February and shot dead 42 Afghans, including women and children. The killer and the man who recruited him have spoken to the BBC's Quentin Sommerville.

There is no sound on the CCTV footage from inside the bank branch on the day of the attack, but the terror of the people inside is plain to see.

Men are seen filing past the gunman, Zara Ajam, who is wearing a policeman's uniform.

As one man passes by, he says something, and is shot on the spot.

Ajam then opens fire on others. People scramble for cover, a man is seen desperately trying to protect his young son.

Ajam only stopped shooting when he believed he had been shot in the face. In fact, he had been hit by glass from a shattered window.

He removed his suicide vest inside the bank, and then discarded the policeman's uniform and hid among the dead and wounded.

However, he was spotted outside and captured by police.


Ajam confessed to his crime and is now being held by the Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), at a prison in Kabul.

President Hamid Karzai has said he should hang for his crime. Ajam claims he was misled.

Image caption Ajam said he would kill others if given the chance

"I was told in Pakistan that you will kill infidels when you go to Afghanistan and you will be an infidel killer," he told me. "But in Jalalabad I was told that people in the bank were infidels. I enjoyed the killing."

The killer does not know his own age. Poorly educated, he worked in a quarry making gravel in the Waziristan area of Pakistan.

When the hood was removed from his head, he looked confused: he had never seen a camera before, nor had he heard of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

But Ajam said he would kill others if given the chance.

"I would kill those infidels who are fighting here in Afghanistan, but I wouldn't kill the innocent."

He was recruited by the Taliban near his home and then, late last year, was taken to a training camp.

During the training an unmanned aircraft fired on the camp. Fourteen militants were killed in the attack, he said.

The man who organised the attack on the bank in Jalalabad is being held in the same prison.

A one-time shopkeeper, the Taliban gave him the name Mahmood.

The NDS describe him as a dangerous fanatic; he sees himself as a holy warrior.

American attacks

He showed Ajam the bank the day before the attack, and supplied him with his weapon and uniform.

Image caption Mahmood said he organised the attack because of the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan

The young Pakistani spent the night in his home, during which Mahmood told his family he was visiting the area and looking to buy land.

He has confessed to planning the attack.

"I did it, but it was because of the presence of foreign forces in our country. If they weren't here, why we Afghans would kill each other?" Mahmood told me.

"What I want the foreigners to do for us is to end the tension and problems among all Afghans - make them bring peace and security through talks. Do not bombard us and kill us."

Mahmood said he joined the fight because he "had heard many stories about Americans killing civilians like they bombed many wedding parties".

"You know Americans caused the re-emergence of the Taliban in the east. When the Taliban were ousted in 2001, there wasn't even one Talib left in whole of Kunar province, but see now how many people have joined the Taliban," he added.

Image caption Both Zara Ajam and Mahmood warned that there would be more attacks

But he was unable to explain why the killing of Afghan civilians was justified.

He said he thought they were government employees, or converts to Christianity.

The intelligence services say they capture dozens of would-be suicide bombers every week, but some still make it through.

More Afghan civilians are being killed than ever before.

Ajam said there were 25 men training to carry out attacks in the camp where he was trained.

Both he and Mahmood warned that there would be more attacks, with greater bloodshed to come.