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Terror from the sky: survivors return to the village that still smells of death

Survivors are trickling back to Madoo village which was pulverised a month ago in the US bombing of the Tora Bora region, where suspected terror mastermind Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding.

Dozens of bodies of civilians lie buried in a makeshift cemetery or under rubble.

From afar, nothing is visible. From the road that winds through the sparkling snow-covered White Mountains, Madoo is indistinguishable from other hills in the arid desert in eastern Afghanistan. It was once green, before years of drought intervened.

A 2 km trek off the road and through fields affords a view of the tiny village of about 30 houses with a population of 300. It now lies in ruins.

"Please come a bit further, you are stepping on the mosque," says a resident named Abdel Hussein, referring to a mound of stone and dust that can hardly be made out from the rest of the gravelly hill. Only some bits and pieces of cloth stick out as signs of human habitation.

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Most buildings suffered the same fate: flattened and turned to dust, along with the people inside.

Huge craters pockmark the hill. A tractor lies on its side, looking like a toy that had been mauled by a giant child.

Birds of prey glide overhead and the stench of decaying flesh is overpowering. Many bodies of humans and domestic animals lie beneath the debris of razed houses and rocks.

The first surviving returnees built a burial ground up the hill: 50 mounds are visible so far.

"We have just collected pieces of bodies, chunks of human flesh, and we have put them into the graves. It was not possible to identify them," said Hussein, 25, adding that most graves contain two bodies each.

Most Madoo residents are unsure about their exact age and are equally vague on the toll from the US bombing - 60 dead, say some. Others say 85 and some even put it at 115.

In the nearby city of Jalalabad, the deputy director of the public hospital, Golodjan Shinwari, is sure of the figure: "Sixty-five bodies of civilians were taken out of the destroyed houses, seven remained under the rubble, and we received 10 persons who had died on the way."

That makes a total of 82.

The nightmarish event is still green in the memory of Abdul Hussein.

On the night of December 1, the 15th day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, he was preparing a traditional pre-dawn meal around three in the morning.

"I heard the sound of the planes. Suddenly bombs fell on our village. I led the children to a safe place and I came back to help the people who were under the rubble and were shouting. Then the planes came back," Hussein says.

Witnesses say the planes raided three times within 30 minutes.

"We are only civilians. We don't understand why the Americans did this."

As he speaks an American drone, a Global Hawk, turns slowly in the sky above Madoo. The pilotless observation aircraft packs millions of dollars of sensors aboard.

"We had no contact with Taliban authorities or Osama bin Laden. We haven't seen any Taliban in the village," Hussein says.

But it is clearly a hot issue in Madoo. There is talk that a man named Merajuddin, a leading Taliban commander in the region who is said to have had links to bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, had been in the village.

"We don't know. We haven't done anything wrong," insists Rasool Speena, an ageing resident.

However, another villager is certain that the Taliban commander had been a resident.

"It was his house. All the people of his family have been killed but he survived and escaped," said Lawar Khan.

Did the Taliban commander's presence in Madoo cause the bombing, is the unanswered question. The only thing certain is that the crisis following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States brought misery to a little mountainous village on the other side of the globe.


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