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How assassin used ruse to kill Karzai brother

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Ahmed Wali Karzai, the provincial council chairman for Kandahar and President Hamid Karzai's half brother, prepares to vote in the presidential elections in this Aug. 20, 2009 file photo.

By Richard Engel, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent 
 
CAIRO – Ahmed Wali Karzai did not take his security lightly. As a brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and one of the most powerful men in Afghanistan, only a few people were able to get close to him, and even fewer would have been able to carry out Tuesday’s assassination. It was a well-planned attack. It was an act of betrayal.

According to Afghan sources, the killer, Sardar Mohammad, was a member of Karzai’s extended family clan, the Popalzai. He’d worked in security for the Karzai family for more than a decade and was once a personal bodyguard for another one of Karzai’s brothers. 

On Tuesday morning Mohammad came to Ahmed Wali Karzai’s home in Kandahar – which doubles as an office – ready to kill.

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Mohammad was more than a bodyguard for Ahmed Wali Karzai, often referred to by his initials AWK. Mohammad was one of AWK’s most trusted security lieutenants. Mohammad helped arrange security, set up checkpoint in Kandahar and move personnel. He was not a close protection man, not a bouncer who kept crowds away, but a trusted midlevel security coordinator with years of experience and family ties. At least two of Mohammad’s family members are part of President Hamid Karzai’s own Presidential Protection Service, similar to the Afghan Secret Service. 

According to Afghan sources, this long-standing relationship was critical to the assassination. Tuesday morning, AWK was in a meeting in his home with Afghan elders. AWK held similar meetings almost every day.  Afghan sources say that Mohammad entered the meeting. Mohammad said he had an urgent matter that he needed to discuss with AWK.

The implication was that it was a personal issue that couldn’t be discussed in front of the others in the room. Mohammad said he needed to talk to AWK for “just two minutes” and asked if AWK could excuse himself so they could talk. Very few people would have been able to walk into a meeting with AWK, interrupt it, and ask him to break away for a few minutes.  Only a trusted few had that kind of clout. Mohammad was one of them. 

Mohammad was also carrying a file in his hands.  The assassin’s gun was apparently hidden in or behind the file. AWK excused himself from his meeting.  The two men walked into a nearby room. Once inside, Mohammad pulled out his gun and shot AWK in the head and chest. The shot to the head killed him. There may have also been a third shot, but it has yet to be confirmed. After the shots were heard, security guards killed the assassin. Mohammad couldn’t have hoped to escape.  

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In this 2010 photo Afghan President Hamid Karzai is met by his half brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, left, in Argandab district of Kandahar province.

'Good friend' kills Afghan president's half-brother
 
Why was he killed?
So why did Mohammad do it? The motive is perhaps the biggest mystery. 

The Taliban have claimed responsibility and say they spent a long time – perhaps years – preparing Mohammad for the mission. It is possible. The Taliban certainly had an interest in killing him.

AWK was a main powerbroker in Kandahar.  He worked with the Americans.  He’d been linked to the drug trade. He’d been paid by the CIA. From the Taliban’s perspective, AWK was a rival and a legitimate target. His death would only make them stronger.

The killing also, according to Afghan officials, may help Pakistan. For several years, Pakistan, President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban have been involved in peace talks to devise a power-sharing agreement.  The United States has followed the talks closely, at times facilitating the secretive peace process.  AWK was a key player in the talks.  He was considered a tough and effective negotiator. There was a recent round of talks in the United Arab Emirates. 

By killing AWK, the Taliban and Pakistan’s position in the negotiations has become stronger. Just like in a business deal, if one negotiator is especially strong, killing him helps the other parties. 

But Afghan sources say Mohammad may have also been motivated by family issues or personal vendettas. It will no doubt take a long time to piece it all together.  AWK had many enemies. One Afghan source said there could have been a combination of motivations, but that ultimately the Taliban benefits because it gains power by removing a rival.