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Feds Study Postal Worker's Taliban Ties

A U.S. postal worker recently charged with aiding a Muslim cleric convicted of trying to blow up New York buildings is now at the center of a probe into whether he helped the assassins of an anti-Taliban leader in Afghanistan, a law enforcement source said.

Federal investigators were trying to determine what role Ahmed Abdel Sattar had in preparing a letter of introduction for the men who killed Gen. Ahmed Shah Massood, the leader of the Northern Alliance, the source said Monday, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The letter may have been used by two men posing as journalists when they killed Massood on Sept. 9, said the source who is familiar with the investigation. Massood died from injuries after a bomb hidden inside a television camera detonated.

The New York Post first reported last month that investigators suspected Sattar helped a London man, Yassir Al-Sirri, write a letter vouching for the men as journalists and requesting an interview with Massood.

It's not clear whether Sattar knew the letter might be used in an assassination plot.

Al-Sirri and Sattar, were named as co-defendants last month in an unrelated terrorism indictment in New York. Al-Sirri has also been charged in London with conspiring to murder Massood last Sept. 9.

Sattar, a 13-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, has not been charged in connection with the assassination. His lawyer, Kenneth Paul, declined to comment.

On Monday, The Washington Post reported that investigators had heard a summer 2001 conversation about the letter during hundreds of hours of wiretaps involving Sattar.

The assassination of Massood was a blow to the Northern Alliance, which had long fought the Taliban in Afghanistan. U.S. officials have speculated that the assassination was a pre-emptive strike against the opposition leader just days before the Sept. 11 terror attacks against New York and Washington.

Sattar, Al-Sirri and two others were charged last month with helping an imprisoned Muslim cleric Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman spread terrorist messages from the prison where he is serving a life sentence for plotting to blow up New York City landmarks.

In other war-related news:

  • President Bush signs a measure today to tighten America's borders, and to keep better track of foreign students. The plan allows the immigration service to hire 400 more investigators. It would create a foreign student tracking system, and will require visitors to carry tamper-proof passports and visas.
  • Defense attorneys for American Taliban John Walker Lindh say he was nothing more than a foot soldier against the Taliban's opponents. His legal team wants a wide-ranging conspiracy charge against Lindh dismissed.
  • U-S special operations forces came under fire Sunday about 50 miles north of Kandahar. They returned fire -- killing five enemy troops and capturing another 32.
  • There's a new analysis by researchers of last fall's bioterrorist attack. It suggests as many as five-thousand pieces of mail might have been contaminated by six anthrax-laced letters sent through the postal service.
  • Intelligence officials are trying to determine if the latest terror threats against the U-S are credible. A government source says officials last week had information on a plan to strike a U-S nuclear plant on July fourth. It's considered not serious enough to act on -- but taken seriously.
  • The top British commander says it's been a "significant blow" to the ability of al Qaeda to launch future terrorist strikes. But a two-week search operation in Afghanistan didn't result in the capture of any suspects.
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