KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - An Afghan man publicly confessed Thursday to helping a suicide bomber cross the Pakistani border so he could attack a Kabul supermarket popular with foreigners, in a rare glimpse of how such operations are organized.
Wearing a thick black beard, handcuffs and an orange prison jumpsuit, 33-year-old Mohammad Khan, an employee of an Afghan cell-phone company, described how he traveled to Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area to help mediate the release of two French journalists held by the Taliban for more than a year.
Together with another friend, Khan headed to the insurgent stronghold of Miram Shah, where they met with local commanders of the Haqqani network, a militant group closely allied with the Taliban that carries out cross-border attacks from sanctuaries in Pakistan.
On the trip back, they brought with them another passenger.
"Who's he?" Khan said he asked his friend. He was told the man's name was Shuwaib. Only after they made it through the rugged mountains back to heavily policed Kabul did he find out the man was a suicide bomber hoping to hit foreigners in the capital.
On Friday, Jan. 28, the three men took a taxi to the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, home to several embassies and upscale villas. As they neared their destination, Khan was told to get out of the car.
Minutes later, the man identified as Shuwaib entered the Finest supermarket, a popular shopping destination stocked with American favorites such as peanut butter, pasta and granola bars. He threw at least one grenade and opened fire on the crowd before detonating his explosives.
Eight people were killed, including six members of a single Afghan family.
"Now I know the victims were Afghans, I'm very repentant," Khan said as he begged for forgiveness in front of the cameras. "It's a very bad thing I've done."
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack, which a spokesman said was aimed at the U.S. security contractor formerly known as Blackwater and now called Xe Services.
But Lutfullah Mashal, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service, said Thursday the department's investigation has determined that the intended targets were two French nationals, possibly diplomats.
No French citizens were reported killed in the attack.
Mashal identified another suspect in the case as Talib Jan, a prisoner who has been held in Pul-i-Charkhi prison complex outside Kabul for the past three years.
Jan is accused of assigning targets and coordinating suicide bombings from his cell on behalf of the Haqqani network through contact with visitors to the facility.
In the northern Kunduz province, meanwhile, another suicide bomber killed three people and wounded five when he blew himself up inside a district chief's office Thursday.
The bomber was able to enter the office of Chahar Dara district chief Abdul Wahid Omarkhail by pretending to be looking for work, said local spokesman Mabobullah Sayedi. The blast killed the chief along with a bodyguard and a village elder who was visiting at the time.
Only last month, Omarkhail told The Associated Press he narrowly missed being hurt when a roadside bomb exploded near his car.
The U.S. Embassy issued a statement strongly condemning the killing as "a senseless and cowardly act against a committed civil servant."
Although the focus of the U.S.-led war is in southern and eastern Afghanistan, insurgents have been working to expand their influence in the north.
Security has been deteriorating in Kunduz and other northern provinces, where there are known hide-outs for the Taliban, al-Qaida and fighters from other militant factions, including the Haqqani network, Hizb-i-Islami and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. NATO has sent more troops to the north and has been pushing harder into militant-held areas.
In a joint raid in Chahar Dara on Dec. 31, Afghan and coalition troops killed an insurgent identified by local officials as the Taliban's "shadow governor" of Kunduz. The Taliban have set up shadow governors in many provinces.
In October last year, a powerful bomb killed Mohammad Omar, the governor of Kunduz and 19 others in a crowded mosque in neighboring Takhar province. Omar was killed just days after he publicly warned of escalating threats from Taliban and foreign fighters across the north.
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