Taliban leader arrested for third time

April 1, 2008 7:36:44 AM PDT
Police arrested a senior Taliban commander who escaped twice from prisons in Afghanistan, nabbing him during a clash in the country's south that left three insurgents dead, an official said Tuesday. The militants, led by Taliban commander Mullah Naqibullah and dressed in police uniforms, ambushed a police convoy Monday north of the Helmand province capital of Lashkar Gah, provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal said.

The ensuing gunbattle left three militants dead, and wounded two policemen and Naqibullah, who was taken into custody, Andiwal said. It was the third time that authorities have arrested Naqibullah. Two months ago, Naqibullah managed to escape from the prison run by the Afghan intelligence service in Lashkar Gah, Andiwal said. Previously he had escaped from a prison in the capital, Kabul.

Helmand is the world's largest opium-producing province and the scene of fierce clashes between militants and Afghan and foreign troops.

In neighboring Kandahar province, an airstrike Monday killed three men irrigating land close to a road in Panjwayi district, said Shah Baran, the district chief.

The men could have been mistaken for militants planting roadside bombs, Baran said.

Squadron Leader Iain Bright, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said their troops targeted four insurgents "as they were digging."

There were no reports of civilians casualties in the strike, Bright said.

The differing accounts could not be independently verified due to the remoteness of the area.

In a separate incident, a mine struck a civilian vehicle Tuesday in southwestern Nimroz province, killing the driver and wounding two civilians, said provincial police chief Mohammad Ayub Badakhshi.

Badakhshi blamed the militants for planting the mine on the road frequently used by foreign and Afghan troops.