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Karzai’s Half-Brother Assassinated by Long-Time Associate

July 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next tonight, an assassination in Afghanistan takes the life of the president’s half-brother.

Ahmed Wali Karzai had survived previous attempts on his life, but, today, a family friend finally did what others could not. The provincial governor of Kandahar said Karzai was receiving guests at his heavily fortified home in the city when a long-time associate shot him point-blank.

A moment later, the assailant was killed by guards. Karzai lay mortally wounded in the head and chest and was dead on arrival at a nearby hospital. Soldiers bore his body and that of his killer’s to the morgue on site. It fell to his half-brother, President Hamid Karzai, to confirm the killing at a joint news conferences with French President Sarkozy in Kabul.

HAMID KARZAI, president of Afghanistan (through translator): This morning, my younger brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been martyred in his house. This is the life of the Afghan people. And inside the houses of the Afghan people, we have all suffered from the same kind of pain.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination, but Afghan officials said an internal feud was also a possibility. And police launched an investigation.

The murder also created an instant and ominous leadership vacuum in Southern Afghanistan at a time when U.S. troops are to begin withdrawing. Ahmed Wali Karzai was a powerful and controversial figure in the family’s ancestral home province of Kandahar. He chaired the provincial council and was a key power broker and proxy for his brother in the region.

But he was also widely suspected of a deep and pervasive corruption. In an interview last month with the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Karzai dismissed persistent talk of profiteering.

AHMED WALI KARZAI, brother of Hamid Karzai: But this is all politics. There is no — never approved. I might help people to facilitate things for them when it comes to security, when it comes to organizing meeting with the population, because I’m the only person who has all the — the facilities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For years, allegations also swirled that the one-time Chicago-area restaurateur had ties to Afghanistan’s lucrative drug trade. But Karzai repeatedly denied those allegations, too. And he had a constant defender in his half-brother.

President Karzai made that clear to the NewsHour’s Margaret Warner in early 2009.

HAMID KARZAI: Not a single person — not on a single occasion have I with given that would suggest that he is involved. Let’s say they are rumors that are not true.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That same year, The New York Times reported that Ahmed Wali Karzai was on the CIA payroll, a charge he also denied. In Washington today, a White House spokesman condemned the assassination, but said nothing about the repercussions for U.S. policy, if any.