Witness recalls assassination of anti-Taliban leader
'Osama bin Laden did it,' says Massoud's friend
By Satinder Bindra
(CNN) -- On September 9, the guerrilla leader of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance and enemy of the ruling Taliban was fatally attacked as he began what he believed was an interview with two TV journalists. Two days later, terrorists struck the United States.
Masood Khalili, a confidante of the alliance Commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, was there when the camera set up by the assassins conducting the deadly trick blew up.
The camera exploded just after the first false question was asked. "It was like a thick curtain of fire rushing though the lens at us. Everything was coming through the lens," Khalili recalled.
Khalili, the Northern Alliance's ambassador to India, where the alliance is considered the legitimate government of Afghanistan, was seriously injured. Four other members of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance who were present perished. Khalili believes that Massoud died in the blast or shortly afterward.
"Dark, deep fire coming from the lens'
He gave his first account of the attack to CNN, filled with emotion as he recalled details of the incident from a hospital in Germany. He is convinced Osama bin Laden -- wanted by the United States in the catastrophic strikes on New York and Washington -- was behind it.
Three men posing as journalists wanted to interview Massoud, Khalili said. Two of them came into Massoud's room.
Khalili said he was surprised at the aggressiveness of their questioning. Speaking in Arabic, they asked what the Northern Alliance would do if it captured bin Laden and why the Northern Alliance hated him so much. Khalili was meant to translate the questions into Persian, Massoud's tongue.
"That killer, coward man was asking about Commander Massoud's most recent trip to Europe, where he criticized Osama bin Laden," Khalili said.
The Taliban regard bin Laden as a guest in Afghanistan and refuse the U.S. demand to turn him over. While in Europe, Massoud had described bin Laden as a "terrorist and a killer, not a guest," Khalili said.
"That's why they planned this all. I know it. Osama bin Laden did it," the ambassador said.
"Just before the interview started, the two bombers asked Commander Massoud why he had been critical of Osama bin Laden and why he had called him a terrorist and a killer," he continued.
"The first question they asked the commander on camera was `What is the situation in northern Afghanistan?'"
"I had just translated the question when there was a huge boom.
"Then, from the camera, I saw a blue, dark, deep fire coming from the lens. I was screaming, `This is your last minute, I should say something holy.' Then from this fire I saw Commander Massoud's hand reaching toward me.
"He reached my hand, he touched me. Then I lost consciousness. When I recovered I was on a helicopter and Commander Massoud was just a few inches from me. I saw his beautiful face full of blood. His attractive hair full of blood."
Khalili said he asked someone on the helicopter about Massoud's condition.
"All he could do was cry. And I could not even reach to kiss him (Massoud) goodbye."
'God saved me to fight the Taliban'
The third "journalist" who accompanied the suicide bombers -- both "Arab-looking in their mid-20's" -- was not allowed in the room. Khalili said that someone present told him that within seconds of the blast, the third man was screaming "God is great. We have been successful."
Unfortunately, said Khalili, the third man was shot before he could be interrogated.
Khalili lost the use of one eye and has severe burns on his legs. He said, however, that he has a new mission in life.
"God saved me to fight the Taliban. And if I die it will be from the hands of those who are the enemies of humanity," he said. "Even if this holy war takes us 20 years we should all unite to fight against the Taliban."
The ambassador said his wife later found his leather-bound passport, embedded with shrapnel, in the pocket of his shirt. "My wife told me 'your passport acted like a shield to your heart. This saved your life.' "
His camera also survived the blast, Khalili said, and he has since developed photographs from that last roll -- one of them a picture of Massoud reading a book. "I'm proud I have taken this photograph. "
Khalili said he will never forget Massoud, his friend of 24 years, who made the supreme sacrifice for the country he loved. "He took it straight in the heart. Me, I just lost an eye and got injured in the legs." Ambassador Khalili's wife has joined him in Germany. "She can now be my other eye," he said.
Khalili has 400 pieces of shrapnel in his legs. He says with amusement that a doctor told him his legs look like the "sky with lots of stars." On Saturday, his spirits were lifted when he was able to walk for the first time since the attack.
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