- POSTED: 03 Oct 2013 23:27
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A former Islamist warlord who trained the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks entered Afghanistan's presidential election race on Thursday, triggering alarm among Western diplomats.
KABUL: A former Islamist warlord who trained the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks entered Afghanistan's presidential election race on Thursday, triggering alarm among Western diplomats.
Abdul Rasul Sayyaf registered his papers at the Independent Election Commission offices in Kabul and vowed to serve the nation as US-led NATO troops prepare to withdraw after 12 years of war.
Sayyaf was named in the 9/11 commission report as the "mentor" of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the key plotter of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Sayyaf also ran militant training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout the 1980s and 1990s, which Mohammed attended and from which several of the 2002 Bali bombers graduated.
Sayyaf met Osama bin Laden at one camp, and is said to have helped the Al-Qaeda chief return to Afghanistan in 1996.
Osama then planned the 9/11 attacks while living in Afghanistan during the hardline Taliban rule.
But Sayyaf fought against the Taliban and later emerged as a close ally of President Hamid Karzai.
"We are not here for personal benefits, or to gain fame. We are here to help heal the wounds of the suffering Afghan nation," Sayyaf, in a long beard and traditional turban, said as his supporters chanted loudly.
"We will work for national unity, to tie up all the ethnic groups in this country," he added.
With nominations closing for the April 5 election on Sunday, Sayyaf looks to have only an outside chance of securing the presidency, but his candidacy has caused concern among Western diplomats in Kabul.
"He is the one we really fear," one told AFP on condition of anonymity, citing his past record of Islamist militancy and ultra-conservative views on women's rights.
Abdullah Abdullah, runner-up in 2009, is seen as the leading candidate in the race, along with academic Ashraf Ghani, foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul and President Karzai's brother Qayum Karzai.
The size of the final field is uncertain, but the president has called for just two or three runners to contest the poll to avoid the chaos of the 2009 vote when 40 names appeared on the ballot paper.
The last poll was also badly tainted by fraud and violence.
April's election is seen as the key test of whether 12 years of massive international military assistance and civilian aid has been worthwhile.
After serving two terms, Karzai must stand down for Afghanistan's first ever democratic transfer of power.
The Taliban have vowed to increase attacks ahead of the withdrawal of NATO coalition forces by the end of next year, while their leader Mullah Omar has dismissed the elections as "a waste of time".
Karzai has pledged to work to ensure the election is credible, but international donors have expressed concern about whether the vote will produce a transparent result accepted by defeated candidates.
Sayyaf's nominee for first vice president was Ismail Khan, a strongman from the western city of Herat.