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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 22:50 GMT 23:50 UK
Afghan minister escapes blast
Mohammed Qasim Fahim
Officials believe Mr Fahim was targeted
US troops will remain in Afghanistan until local security forces can keep the peace, American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said.

He made the commitment hours after Afghanistan's interim Defence Minister Mohammad Fahim survived an apparent assassination attempt.

Four civilians were killed and more than 50 others injured when a bomb exploded as Mr Fahim's convoy visited the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Mr Fahim, one of the most powerful men in Afghanistan as the leader of an armed faction as well as interim defence chief, was unharmed in the blast, which officials believe was an attempt on his life.

Mr Rumsfeld rejected suggestions that the apparent assassination attempt, coupled with the discovery of an alleged coup plot last week, showed the situation in Afghanistan was unravelling.

"The environment there, compared to six months ago, is so much better than it was," he said, while acknowledging the need for a continued US presence.

"You'd want to have an environment that was reasonably hospitable to the government, people going about their business, going to school, trade with other countries, and that'll take a little time."

Opium trade

The attack on Mr Fahim came a day after the six-month anniversary of the start of the US-led war against the Taleban in Afghanistan.

They were just ordinary people who were there to welcome the minister

Mr Fahim's secretary

Mr Fahim had gone to Jalalabad to discuss a new government campaign to stop farmers growing poppies for the opium trade and other issues with local commanders and tribal leaders.

The day before, foreign peacekeepers came under attack from rocket fire near their headquarters in the capital Kabul.

In another major security incident last week, police in Kabul arrested more than 160 people allegedly involved in a plot to topple the government.

Children injured

A BBC journalist who was travelling with Mr Fahim witnessed the attack. He said a mine had exploded underneath the central car in Mr Fahim's convoy.

No-one from his entourage was killed, but the journalist said 57 civilians, many of them school children who had gathered around the convoy to see the minister, were injured or killed.

Opium poppy farmer
The visit was part of a campaign against opium production
"They were just ordinary people who were there to welcome the minister," Mr Fahim's secretary Mr Gulbuddin said.

Our correspondent described bodies torn apart and school scarves left lying in the streets.

No-one has yet taken responsibility for the attack. Mr Fahim has blamed it on people who want destabilise the interim government.

Speaking after the explosion, Mr Fahim showed journalists a leaflet urging people to kill anyone who, it said, had let the Americans take over Afghanistan.

Those listed included not only Mr Fahim, but also the interior and foreign ministers, and the Afghan interim leader, Hamid Karzai.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | South Asia
Peacekeepers kept in dark on Kabul plot
29 Mar 02 | UK
Bomb alert at Afghan base
06 Mar 02 | Europe
Peacekeepers die in Kabul blast
19 Feb 02 | South Asia
Shooting threatens Kabul stability
02 Feb 02 | South Asia
Peacekeepers key to Afghan future
07 Apr 02 | South Asia
Rocket fired at Kabul peacekeepers
08 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghanistan faces poppy dilemma
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