CHINO GHONDAI, Afghanistan — The Afghan soldier suspected of killing four French troops last month had serious mental health problems and a history of violence, but he wasn't a Taliban insurgent, his father told McClatchy.
Mohammad Noor said his son, Abdul Saboor, once tried to burn his stepmother and her children alive, was expelled from home for aggressive behavior and later was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Afghanistan.
The revelations raise fresh doubts about the Afghan army's process for vetting the soldiers to whom the United States and its allies are planning to hand responsibility for securing Afghanistan. An Afghan Defense Ministry interrogation report leaked to McClatchy last week said that Saboor twice bribed an army recruiter to forge papers so that he could enter the service — the second time after he'd deserted the army and spent time in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, a hotbed of Taliban influence.
Even now, nearly three weeks after the Jan. 20 attack, Afghan authorities haven't contacted Saboor's family for an interview or to inform them that Saboor was taken into custody after the shooting.
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"I am sure that he had no contact with the Taliban," Noor told McClatchy at his home in Chino Ghondai village in southern Kabul province, less than an hour's drive from the Afghan capital. He said that the shooting "may have been the result of a psychiatric attack he had at that time."
The shooting at a military base in Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul, also wounded as many as 18 other French soldiers and prompted President Nicolas Sarkozy to announce that French combat forces would withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2013, a year earlier than scheduled.
Even if Saboor wasn't an insurgent recruit, the fact that a deserter with a history of mental illness was able to bribe his way into the Afghan army — twice — has renewed serious questions about the integrity of the Afghan army that the United States and its allies are serving alongside. The shooting was also the latest in a growing number of attacks by Afghan soldiers on their international trainers.
Jawid Kohistani, a defense analyst and former officer in Afghanistan's intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, told McClatchy that Defense Ministry investigators were convinced Saboor was recruited for his attack by the Taliban.
Daulat Waziri, deputy spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, told McClatchy that an investigation was ongoing. Besides Saboor, five Afghan army personnel and two civilians have been arrested in connection with the shooting, Waziri said. One of the civilians, he said, was a person charged with forging a national ID card; Saboor's interrogation report said that the army recruiter he bribed provided him with fake ID papers.
Noor said his son had spent time in Pakistan, although he couldn't confirm the account in the Defense Ministry's interrogation report that Saboor traveled to Peshawar in the months before the Jan. 20 shooting. Noor didn't know how many times his son had been to Pakistan, or when, because eight years ago he kicked him out of the house because of his increasingly erratic and violent behavior.
Saboor's behavior deteriorated after his mother died when he was 13, his father said, and he became angry and aggressive when Noor remarried.
"He once locked my children and my (second) wife in a room and threatened them to burn them alive," Noor said.
After expelling Saboor from his home, Noor had little contact with his son. But he heard "three or four years ago" that Saboor had developed a mental illness during a visit to Pakistan.
Noor said that his brother brought Saboor to Kabul, where he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He was told that Saboor acted violently at times while in the hospital, "hitting himself and others. He wouldn't let anyone approach him."
Two or three months ago, Saboor, now 21, showed up in Chino Ghondai to apologize for his past behavior, his father said.
"He said: 'Forgive me, and pray for me,'" said Noor. "Then he went."
Saboor's last words to his father raise the possibility that he was planning an attack that he didn't expect to survive. But Noor said he didn't believe the Kapisa shooting was premeditated, and he insisted that Saboor never had contact with any insurgent group. He said his son had studied religion at school but wasn't especially religious, and had never discussed the presence in Afghanistan of U.S. or Western forces.
For Saboor's father, the shooting of the French soldiers will remain the act of a madman rather than a violent extremist.
"It was an accident, because Saboor had psychological problems. He had no enmity for the French," Noor said. "It would be good if the relatives of the victims could forgive him."
(Stephenson is a McClatchy special correspondent. Special correspondent Ali Safi contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.)
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