By Mary Slosson
(Reuters) - Remains of a San Diego man suspected of killing a former head of the Afghanistan central bank who fled to the United States as a political fugitive have been found, police said on Thursday.
Bones identified as belonging to Ismael Raul Lopez, 28, were discovered by recreational divers offshore in the Pacific Ocean and later recovered by public safety personnel, San Diego police said in a statement.
Lopez was suspected by police of killing self-employed cab driver Mir Najibullah Sadat Sahou, 68, in a robbery-homicide in late September. An arrest warrant had been issued in October.
The announcement sheds more light on a mysterious case that some believe was a politically motivated assassination instead of the robbery-homicide police have described.
On September 28, at about 11:35 p.m., Sahou stopped his green-and-white cab along a street in La Jolla, just north of San Diego, according to police. Witnesses saw two men emerge from the vehicle.
A woman who lives near the crime scene says she heard two men bickering loudly in a foreign language before three gunshots were fired. Police later found Sahou dead on a nearby walkway.
The woman said she doubted that robbery was the motive. Sahou's nephew also told local media that his uncle's wallet and ring had been found in the cab.
Lopez fled in the cab, which was later found abandoned and unoccupied by police on a coastal road a few miles away from the site of the shooting.
Lopez either jumped the curb of the coastal road by accident or intended to drive into the ocean, police said. Paint marks on the cab matched marks on the wooden fence above the ocean.
Along with the bones, divers also found part of Lopez's skull with a bullet hole in it, police said.
Homicide investigators said they will continue to work with the medical examiner's office to determine Lopez's cause of death.
Forced by civil war from his post as governor of Afghanistan's central bank, Sahou was granted political asylum in the United States in 1992 after fighters in his native country seized his home.
Almost two decades later, the French-trained former economist turned full-time cabby and part-time TV commentator was shot to death while working a late-night shift driving his taxi in the upscale La Jolla community.
Some friends and associates of Sahou have raised questions about whether his views on the Afghan government and economy, as aired on a talk show he hosted on the Ariana-Afghanistan International TV network, may have cost him his life.
Nabil Miskinyar, who owns the Irvine, California-based TV channel, said Sahou's commentary for the bi-weekly show, "To Find the Truth," struck a very "neutral" tone, and he doubted the killing was political.
But he said homicide investigators asked Sahou's wife for a copy of her husband's final program, broadcast the week he died, focusing on the September 20 assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of the High Peace Council seeking to open talks with the Taliban, at his home in Kabul.
Sahou ran the central bank under Rabbani and prior to his administration, Miskinyar said.
Despite master's degrees in finance and economics from the Sorbonne in Paris, he was unable to find work in his field in the United States.
He ultimately purchased a taxi cab and began working double shifts. But his daughter Savitar Sahou, 26, said he remained very much a scholar, reading during breaks on the job and writing poetry during rare moments of free time.
Although Sahou eventually became a U.S. citizen, he maintained close ties with Afghanistan and was urged to return to his homeland to seek political office after the Taliban were driven from power, his daughter said. He chose instead to stay and build a new life in the United States.
Sahou "started over and worked very hard to make something of himself here," his daughter said.
(Editing by Peter Bohan)