KABUL (Reuters) - A man accused of being a key player in a plot to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a close bodyguard and did not have freedom of movement within the well-protected presidential palace complex, Karzai's office said Saturday.
Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said Wednesday it had foiled a plot to kill Karzai, after detaining a bodyguard and five other people officials said were linked to the Haqqani network, an insurgent network, and al Qaeda.
NDS described the group as "dangerous" and added that the bodyguard, Mohebullah Ahmadi, was from Karzai's home village of Karz in southern Afghanistan and had infiltrated the presidential protection system.
But the palace, in an apparent attempt to downplay the actual risk to Karzai's life, months after his brother was assassinated by a trusted guard, implied there had been some exaggeration of the would-be killer's position.
"Mohebullah Ahmadi had no authority to act on his own and was just guarding a gate outside the presidential palace," Karzai's office said in a statement.
"Some news outlets in their reports have described him as if he was one of the close bodyguards to the president. We hope that the media can report the issues with clarity."
Karzai has been the target of at least three assassination attempts since becoming Afghan leader in 2002, most notably in April 2008, when insurgents fired guns and rockets at a military parade he attended near the palace in Kabul.
NDS said the plotters included university students and medical doctors, and had been trained in the use of guns, rockets and suicide attacks by the Haqqani network and al Qaeda.
The Haqqanis are one of three Taliban-allied insurgent factions fighting in Afghanistan. Perhaps the most feared, they are thought to have introduced suicide bombing to the country, and to be behind many high-profile attacks.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison)