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  • Writer's pictureDavid Connolly

Who Was the ‘Lion of Panjshir’?

On Sept. 9, 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud agreed to meet for an interview with two Arab men posing as TV journalists. The Sunday meeting was held in Khawja Bahaouddin at one of Massoud’s forts in northeastern Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley. The 48-year-old Afghan mujahedeen commander and Northern Alliance leader had defended the Panjshir Valley, the last bastion of Afghan freedom, against successive invasion forces — the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s.

Because of his fierce guerrilla resistance campaign, Massoud acquired the nickname “Lion of Panjshir.” But just two days before the 2001 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, elements from al Qaeda and the Taliban targeted him for assassination. The two assassins detonated bombs concealed in television cameras. The explosion instantly killed both attackers and Massoud’s young press attache, Asam Suhail. Massoud was fatally wounded and later died.

The brazen, targeted attack was an attempt to cripple the fighting spirit of the Northern Alliance, the resistance force Massoud had commanded. Usama Bin Laden anticipated that the US would enlist the Northern Alliance’s help in conducting a retaliatory military offensive after the 9/11 attacks.

“More than five years after his assassination Massoud remains a national hero to many Afghans,” Time magazine journalist Peter Bergen wrote in November 2006. “Passengers at Kabul airport are greeted by a mural of him standing several stories high. Massoud’s place in history is assured by the fact that he was arguably the most brilliant practitioner of guerrilla warfare in the late 20th century.”

Massoud’s legend wasn’t established overnight.

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