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Latest trick in evil bag: booby-trapping vehicles

Suspected al-Qaida and Taliban fighters planned to kill international peacekeepers by setting off car bombs in Afghanistan's capital, authorities said Monday.

Six cars were rigged with booby-traps to be detonated near peacekeeper security patrols, according to Flight Lt. Tony Marshall, a spokesman for the security force.

The vehicles were placed under surveillance, but no arrests have been made, he said. However, the international security force chose to make the plot public after a French captain revealed details of it to French journalists, officials said.

"We were aware of these vehicles where these vehicles were being kept and what the intentions were of these groups," Marshall said. "If there had been any move to actually use these vehicles in any way, in the matter that I've just described," peacekeepers would have acted, he added.

Although Kabul has been relatively quiet for months, Western and Afghan authorities have been concerned over the possibility that al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts would try to infiltrate the city and stage attacks against the 4,500-member peacekeeping force.

Concern over peacekeeper safety is running high in countries such as Britain and Germany that provide the bulk of the 18-nation force.

The International Security Assistance Force operates only in Kabul and is separate from the U.S.-led force fighting al-Qaida and the Taliban elsewhere in Afghanistan.

Marshall said intelligence information also indicated that peacekeepers and other foreigners may be kidnapped by extremists "to either promote their particular cause or achieve some end goal" such as the release of prisoners held by the United States and anti-Taliban Afghan forces.

The peacekeeping force already had advised journalists and Western aid workers that they were at risk of being kidnapped in Kabul and elsewhere.

Marshall called both warnings credible and significant.

The reports of fresh threats come just days after Afghanistan's former king delayed his scheduled return home for the first time since his 1973 ouster, citing security concerns.

Mohammad Zaher Shah was due to return to Kabul today, but the Italian government, which has maintained responsibility for his security during his three decades of exile in Rome, said over the weekend that the timing was not appropriate.

The presence of the peacekeeping force in the capital has not been enthusiastically welcomed by all members of interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai's administration.

The defense minister, Gen. Mohammed Fahim, has long resisted any expansion of the force outside of Kabul and would like the peacekeepers to leave as soon as possible. Most of the opposition has come from the "Panjshiri" group _ ethnic Tajiks such as Fahim who fought against the Taliban in the northern alliance and are from the Panjshir Valley of the Hindu Kush Mountains.

However, other officials of the new government, including Karzai, have praised the peacekeeping force and its efforts to enforce security in the capital. Karzai has been pressing for an expanded role for the peacekeepers outside the capital and wants more international troops sent to Afghanistan.

In other developments:

U.S. troops will soon begin helping to train an Afghan army to try to maintain security and guard the borders, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday. The United States will send no additional troops to do the training, but will use Special Forces troops already in the country when they are not engaged in other tasks, Rumsfeld said.

A dispute among America's Afghan allies continued to build about 40 miles east of the Operation Anaconda battle area. Afghan officials said U.S. Special Forces had not handed over two suspects who allegedly sought refuge at their base after ambushing the car of the regional security chief. One bodyguard and two other people were killed. The incident threatens to drive a wedge between Afghan groups allied with the United States in the battle against al-Qaida and the Taliban.