LONDON, AP – A British jury convicted a former Afghan warlord Monday of torture and hostage-taking after what prosecutors called the first trial in Britain of a foreigner for crimes committed in his homeland.
For much of the 1990s, warlord Faryadi Sarwar Zardad and his men ran a fiefdom of fear on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, Kabul, beating, shooting and imprisoning civilians at random.
He came to London in 1998 on a fake passport and was managing a pizza restaurant when he was arrested.
"By securing this conviction, the Crown Prosecution Service has shown there is no hiding place here for torturers and hostage-takers," said Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald.
In November, an Old Bailey jury failed to reach a verdict at Zardad”s first trial. During his retrial, victims of Zardad and his gang testified via video link from the British Embassy in Kabul.
One witness said a man known as "Zardad”s dog" had bitten another man at a checkpoint because he wasn”t handing out grapes fast enough.
Another man said Zardad”s men held him in captivity for months and beat him so much his family didn”t recognize him. A boy said he saw the warlord”s men torture his father and cut off his ear.
"Our lawyers have worked relentlessly to prepare this case — including visits to Afghanistan — and have overcome the difficulties of proving crimes committed in another country over 10 years ago."
Prosecutors said from 1991-96 Zardad was in charge of the road from Kabul to Jalabadad in the Sarobi area, and his men set up checkpoints where they trapped opponents and abused them.
They said Zardad fled his homeland in fear of his life, having fought both the invading Russians and the Taliban. Soon after arriving in London, he gave an interview to British Broadcasting Corp. television, which drew attention to his whereabouts, and he was arrested.
He denied the charges, including conspiracy to torture and conspiracy to take hostages in an area outside Kabul between Dec. 31, 1991, and Sept. 30, 1996.
"I have never killed anybody and if anybody in the whole of Afghanistan can produce that evidence against me then I will accept that crime," Zardad told police through an interpreter.
"I have never taken hostages, not even slapped anybody."
Britain prosecuted Zardad under a section of the Criminal Justice Act that allows it to try alleged torturers regardless of where the crime may have occurred. The legislation was adopted in 1988 in line with the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Experts said it appeared to be the first time a case using the legislation has reached trial.
Former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London under the same legislation and held for 16 months while courts decided whether he could be extradited to Spain to face charges there. In March 2000, Britain allowed him to return to Chile for health reasons.