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PESHAWAR, Oct 26: The Taliban on Friday executed a key Afghan commander on spying charges hours after he was captured along with a handful of his men in the Logar province, Afghan and Pakistani officials confirmed.

Taliban information minister Mulla Amir Khan Muttaqi said on Friday in Kabul that Commander Abdul Haq had been executed on the orders of supreme leader Mulla Mohammad Omar. The 43-year-old former Mujahideen commander was charged with spying for the United States and treason against the state, Muttaqi said. He was given a summary trial and was later executed in Rishkore, south of Kabul, the Taliban official said.

Haq’s nephew, Izzatullah and Commander Haji Dauran, were also executed, a Taliban official said.

The two were part of the group of eight people arrested by the Taliban between Hisarak and Azro on late Thursday night following a shootout. The Taliban said that they had recovered satellite phones and impounded three vehicles which were in their use.

The Taliban claimed they had thwarted attempts by the US helicopters to rescue Abdul Haq, reports AFP.

Abdul Hanan Hemat, head of the Taliban’s information agency said that Haq and two others were spreading US propaganda and “trying to encourage people to rebel.”

“Based on a ulema warrant which calls for the death penalty for anyone spying for the United States, they were shot dead,” the official told AFP.

Hemat and other Taliban officials said that Haq had been cornered in the eastern town of Azro, in Logar province, and arrested after a two-day standoff despite a bid by US forces to rescue him.

“After a while two helicopters and one American jet came into the area and started firing rockets, Hemat said, “The helicopters tried to land and rescue them but they failed.”

Hemat said Haq had been carrying several satellite phones, a large amount of cash, in dollars, and documents containing the names of his supporters.

“We also seized some documents which showed which people were working for him. These are very important and they will be very useful to us.”

A Taliban spokesman told the Afghan Islamic Press that another 50 of Haq’s supporters — including “foreigners” — had also been surrounded.

“We have not arrested any foreigners but there is a possibility that there may be some foreigners among the 50 people under siege,” he told AIP.

US special forces and intelligence agents are known to be working with some Afghan opposition leaders.

Abdul Haq was a legendary figure in the fight against the 1979-89 occupation by the Soviet Union.

He is not a member of the main opposition force, the Northern Alliance, which is dominated by Afghanistan’s Uzbek and Tajik minorities.

But he is a hero to Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group which supplies the bulk of Taliban forces.

A foreign intelligence source told AFP he had returned to Logar province to set up a tribal revolt against Taliban rule.

“If he has been captured, it is a huge setback to this idea of dividing the Taliban,” the source said. “It also boosts the position of the Northern Alliance, who have said all along that there are no moderate Taliban.”

Abdul Haq had gone to Afghanistan via Kurram Agency on Sunday to try and open the first Pushtun front against the ruling militia, resumes Ismail Khan.

He had returned to Pakistan early this month after staying in Dubai to oversee his business to support the return of former king Zahir Shah and take part in efforts to dislodge the Taliban.

He was a known commander of Hezb-i-Islami of Maulvi Younas Khalis, and was in-charge of the Kabul region during the Jihad.

He was later appointed as commander internal security in the Afghan capital in 1992 but quit soon afterwards, saying he did not want to become part of the power struggle.

His wife and son were killed at his residence in Hayatabad in 1998 under mysterious circumstances.

Fluent in English, Haq was a sharp and smart man and was widely tipped for a high post in the new dispensation under Zahir Shah.

Commander Haq’s death has dealt a serious blow to the efforts to mount armed opposition to the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Pashtun belt and encourage uprising. Fellow commanders say that they had tried to restrain Abdul Haq from going about it on his own and had urged him to coordinate his efforts with them.

They say that they had also raised the matter with Haq’s brother Haji Din Mohammed and he had agreed with them. “But Abdul Haq said that he could not wait and would rather do it alone,” a commander said.

The anti-Taliban commanders and leaders went into immediate session to assess the situation and chalk out future strategy, a source said.

His family in his Hayatabad residence received the news of his death with shock and grief. “I call upon all the peace-loving Afghans, the tribes and the various departments of the state to ensure that Haq is not harmed and is allowed to proceed with his efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan,” Abdul Haq’s elder brother, Haji Din Mohammed told a press conference earlier in the day.

Haji Din Muhammad, who is vice-president of Khalis’ party, told the news conference that his brother had gone to his native Jabbarkhel tribesmen to consult them on the peace process. “He was unarmed and had never been part of any armed struggle. There is no question of him having gone to Afghanistan to launch armed opposition to the Taliban,” he said. “He had gone to his own country and his own village and did not require any visa.”

He said that the Taliban fired at them and later arrested them between Hisarak and Azro in Logar province. “I have no further information,” he said.

He also denied reports that some Americans accompanied Haq. “If there was any American, the Taliban should produce him,” he said.

The Taliban say that an American accompanied Haq on his trip but escaped and was now on the run.