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Rabbani's killer 'waited for days'

The suicide bomber who assassinated former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani insisted on meeting face-to-face with the ex-president and waited in Kabul for days to talk with him about brokering peace with the Taliban.

Mr Rabbani - who headed a government council seeking a political settlement with the insurgents - was killed yesterday by a man who had claimed he was a Taliban leader wanting to reconcile with the Afghan government.

The assassination dashed hopes for reconciling with the Taliban and raised fears about deteriorating security in Afghanistan just as foreign combat troops are starting to pull out.

Mohammad Ismail Qasemyar, the international relations adviser for the peace council, said the bomber, identified as Esmatullah, had approached several council officials, telling them that he was an important figure in the Taliban insurgency and would only speak directly with Mr Rabbani. "He wanted to talk about peace with Professor Rabbani," Mr Qasemyar said.

The appeal was passed up to President Hamid Karzai, who called Mr Rabbani and encouraged him to meet with Esmatullah, said Ahmad Wali Masood, the brother of Ahmed Shah Masood, the resistance leader who was killed by al Qaida in 2001. The bomber stayed at a house used for guests of the peace council while waiting for Mr Rabbani to return from a trip to Iran, Mr Qasemyar said.

On Tuesday the two met and the attacker went to shake hands with Mr Rabbani at his home, bowing his head near the former president's chest and detonating a bomb hidden in his turban, Mr Qasemyar said.

The US-led coalition said another attacker was also involved, but that could not be confirmed by Afghan officials. A Western official said one person has been detained in connection with Rabbani's death.

The dignitaries included Vice President Gen Mohammed Qasim Fahim; Abdullah Abdullah, a top opposition leader who ran against Karzai in the last election; Ismail Khan, a former warlord and current minister of water and power; and Atta Mohammed Noor, a powerful governor of Balkh province in the north. Local citizens denounced the Taliban, saying it was shameful for insurgents to kill an old man working for peace.

The Pakistani government and leaders across the world condemned the killing. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Afghan President Hamid Karzai as he rushed back to Kabul from the United States.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Gen Mohammad Ayub Salangi, police chief in Kabul, said the Taliban were behind it

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