Kabul, Afghanistan In a stunning blow to U.S.-backed efforts to undermine the Taliban, the ruling Islamic militia Friday captured and executed a former guerrilla leader who slipped into Afghanistan to try to lure tribal leaders away from the regime.
U.S. jets struck a Red Cross compound in Kabul for a second time this month.
Abdul Haq, 43, whose death was confirmed by his family, was the second of a prominent Afghan opposition leader killed in recent weeks. Northern alliance military leader Ahmed Shah Massood was assassinated by suicide bombers last month.
Haq returned to Afghanistan six days ago to try to convince Afghan tribal leaders to support a U.S.-backed plan under which former king Mohammad Zaher Shah would convene a grand council of all Afghan factions to organize a new government to replace the ruling militia.
Haq's nephew Mohammed Yousuf told reporters in Pakistan that the former guerrilla and a companion were taken to the Rishkore barracks near Kabul and hanged. Their bodies were then sprayed with bullets, he said.
The Taliban's Bakhtar news agency said Haq was executed because he was spying for Britain and the United States. Bakhtar claimed he was found with two satellite telephones, U.S. dollars and unspecified documents.
"At the same time Abdul Haq was captured, one jet and two helicopters came to try to help him but they failed," the agency said.
Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, asked in Washington about the Taliban report, said: "I don't have any information that any rescue attempt was made."
As hero of the war against the Soviets and member of the majority Pashtun community, Haq represented the kind of figure the United States and its allies need if they are to form a multiethnic, broad-based government to replace the Taliban.
Haq allied himself with the former king because he believe the minority-dominated northern alliance would never be accepted by Pashtuns, who form the core of Taliban support.
Haq, who was not part of the northern-based opposition forces fighting the Taliban, had claimed he was in contact with Taliban members who might be willing to cooperate with the grand council plan.
His execution was a clear warning to tribal leaders and others that the Taliban leadership would deal ruthlessly with anyone who sided with the 87-year-old former monarch or sought to undermine its base.
While unable to confirm Haq's execution, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said "his death would be very sad and regrettable."
Other developments Friday
l Britain announced it will commit 200 special forces troops to the offensive in Afghanistan as part of a larger military force to include warships and planes. They are to be stationed on assault ships in the region, and 400 more will be on standby.
l Tens of thousands of people marched peacefully through the middle of Karachi, Pakistan, to protest U.S.-led strikes on Afghanistan and the support of Pakistan's government in carrying them out.
l President Bush signed a sweeping anti-terrorism bill into law, giving police and intelligence agencies vast new powers to fight terrorism.
No rest for holy day
Friday's American attacks on the capital, Kabul, took place on the Muslim holy day, some of them at a time when many people were preparing for midday prayers in the mosques.
After a lull, wave after wave of attacks resumed after sundown, with jets diving, unleashing their bombs and missiles, climbing high into the night sky and then returning moments later to bombard the city again.
Sounds of staccato-like blasts echoed through the streets apparently from a munitions dump targeted in the east of Kabul. Large explosions shook the city in rapid succession apparently from heavy bombers flying high overhead.
Bush launched the attacks Oct. 7 after the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Red Cross struck again
During the daylight attacks in Kabul, one bomb exploded near the compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross, setting a warehouse filled with humanitarian goods on fire. U.S. jets attacked the same compound Oct. 16.
"Of course, I am sad. We had special programs over the next several days to distribute these items to the disabled people," ICRC worker Abdul Rashid said as he watched the flames.
No mercy for opposition
The 43-year-old Haq was tried and executed under a religious decree that stipulates death for anyone spying for Britain and the United States, the agency said.
"Commander Haq went there unarmed with five or six people to talk to elders to find out how to bring peace to the country," his nephew Yousuf said In Peshawar. "The Taliban have gone out of their minds. It's a great loss."
In a statement about Haq to the Afghan Islamic Press, Taliban intelligence chief Mullah Qari Ahmedullah warned that the Islamic militia maintains a "very effective spying system" in every province and "no opponent can escape from it."
Haq opposed efforts by Russia, the United States and other governments to promote the northern alliance, which is dominated by ethnic minority Tajiks and Uzbeks.