Afghan Suspect May Face Death in Journalist Murders

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(AP) The alleged leader of a gang that killed four journalists covering the collapse of the Taliban in 2001 will probably face the death penalty if convicted, a judge said Monday, a day after the man was captured in a shoot-out with police.

Zar Jan was accused of heading the group of armed men who stopped the four journalists — three of them foreigners — as they traveled in a convoy from the eastern city of Jalalabad on Nov. 19, 2001, six days after the Taliban militia abandoned Kabul in the wake of heavy U.S. bombing.

Judge Abdul Baset Bakhtyari, who presided over the trial of another suspect in the killings, said Jan also may be charged with murder once police investigators hand over his case to the courts. He said the alleged gang boss would likely face the death penalty if convicted.

“Zar Jan has been wanted for a long time,” Bakhtyari told The Associated Press. “He was in charge of the gang. They stopped the car of the journalists, searched them and then took them away from the road and killed them.”

It was not clear whether Bakhtyari would preside over Jan’s trial.

Jan was caught with five other members of his gang on Sunday as they robbed a house in the town of Sarobi, about 35 miles east of the capital, Kabul, said Jamil Khan, head of the city police’s criminal investigation department.

Jan was shot and wounded in the gunbattle and brought to a hospital in Kabul, he said.

Those killed in the 2001 attack were Australian television cameraman Harry Burton and Afghan photographer Azizullah Haidari of the Reuters new agency; Maria Grazia Cutuli of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera; and Julio Fuentes of the Spanish daily El Mundo.

Two men already have been convicted in connection with the murders. One was sentenced to 16 years in prison. The other, Reza Khan, was sentenced to death on charges of murder and for raping the Italian reporter. Khan has appealed his sentence to Afghanistan’s highest court.

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