A Taliban splinter group has claimed responsibility for the killing of Arsala Rahmani, a top negotiator for Afghanistan's High Peace Council (HPC), according to Pakistani media reports.
The little-known Mahaz-e-Mullah Dadullah, or Mullah Dadullah Front, said it was behind Sunday's shooting in a text message, the Express-Tribune newspaper said on Monday.
According to a spokesman who identified himself as Qari Hamza, Rahmani had been targeted because of his connections to the government in Kabul and its foreign allies.
“The infidel forces had assigned Arsala [Rahmani] to sell out the mujahideen to non-Muslims, so that the non-Muslims continue their occupation of Afghanistan,” the man said. “We will target and eliminate all such people.”
Mahaz-e-Mullah Dadullah, which operates mainly out of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces, is named after a senior Taliban commander, Mullah Dadullah, who was killed in Helmand province in 2007, and opposes Taliban negotiations with the US.
The former senator's body was laid to rest in Kabul's Nader Khan hilltop at a burial ceremony this afternoon.
The burial took place 100 metres from the grave of the Afghan King, Mohammed Nader Shah.
Rahmani was killed in western Kabul on Sunday when an unknown attacker in a vehicle shot the former Taliban deputy education minister while on his way to work, said Mohammad Zahir, head of the Kabul police department's criminal investigation division.
"Shortly after leaving home he was hit by a single bullet from a passing car. The bullet passed through his left arm and hit his heart," Mohammad Waris, Rahmani's grandson, told the AFP news agency. "He died in the hospital."
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Rahmani was on his way to a meeting with politicians and other officials in a government-run media centre in the heavily barricaded diplomatic centre of Kabul.
At a news conference in Kabul, the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan's domestic intelligence agency, said on Sunday that it had received prior information about assassination attempts on Rahmani.
“We had twice informed Rahmani about the plot. The information was shared with him by an NDS operative in person,” a spokesman for the Afghan spy service, Shafiqullah Tahiri, said.
Authorities had taken precautions to ensure round-the-clock security for the peace negotiator, installing barricades and placing guards on patrol outside his west Kabul residence, Tahiri said while invoking the term Afghan authorities use to describe the Taliban and other anti-government fighters.
The peace council was set up by Hamid Karzai, the president, two years ago to open talks with the Taliban. Rahmani was among a group of Taliban-era leaders to accept a reconcilliation offer from Karzai when he became a close adviser to the Afghan president.
Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former head of the HPC, was assassinated on September 20. Rabbani, a former president, was killed by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.
On their official Twitter account, the US embassy in Kabul called the death of another peace council member a "tragedy".
'Scholar and pacifist'
The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan released a statement calling Rahmani an "inspiration to us all" for his decision to leave the Taliban and engage with the Afghan government.
|Rahmani was laid to rest on the Nader Khan hilltop [AFP]
In a statement released by the presidential palace, Karzai said Rahmani's killing was a "terrible loss", calling him "a knowledgeable religious scholar, Mujahed, tribal leader, politician and a great pacifist.”
Rahmani was said to be a close adviser to the Afghan president in seeking ways to reach out to the Taliban.
Officials within the Karzai administration have recently said that Taliban willing to negotiate with the Afghan government have been facing serious threats from others within the movement.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, denied the group's involvement in the killing, saying: "We are still committed to our campaign against the so-called members of the so-called High Peace Council, but again I insist that the Taliban were not behind today’s assassination."
Mujahid was referring to a statement issued earlier this month that members of the council and other officials in Afghanistan would be targeted as part of the group's spring offensive.