KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Hundreds of people linked to a hard-line Islamic group have been arrested in Kabul in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow the government of interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and attack foreigners, Afghan officials said Thursday.
The plot, the most serious threat yet to Karzai's fledgling administration, included plans to set off bombs throughout the capital, said Gen. Din Muhammad Jurat, the director general for security at the Interior Ministry. He said most of those arrested were members of Hezb-e-Islami, a hard-line Islamic group headed by former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
"They wanted to launch a coup d'etat against the government," said Mohammed Naseer, the security director at the Kabul governor's office. He said the suspects also wanted to disrupt the loya jirga, a political gathering planned for June to select a new Afghan government.
Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni said the goal of the plotters was still under investigation, but that the suspects were engaged in the planning of "terrorism, abductions and sabotage." He said authorities had seized explosives and remote control devices and found "written documents indicating that they would carry out these acts." He did not elaborate
When asked if the plotters planned to assassinate Karzai, Qanooni said: "There were a series of attacks planned against a number of prominent Afghan individuals, including Chairman Karzai and the former king," Mohammad Zaher Shah, who is due to return to Afghanistan from Italy later this month. Qanooni added that authorities had evidence the men planned to attack foreigners.
The roundups could heighten tensions between Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, and the northern alliance, which is dominated by ethnic Tajiks and which controls the interior and other key ministries. Hekmatyar's following is largely Pashtun, and Pashtun leaders may interpret the arrests as an attempt to stifle their moves toward Pashtun unity in advance of the loya jirga.
When asked if most of those arrested were Pashtuns, Qanooni said only: "Let's not turn it into an ethnic issue."
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