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January 7 2013

A fight for Afghanistan’s most famous artifact


For 250 years, Masood Akhundzada’s family has protected Afghanistan’s most sacred artifact: a cloak said to have been worn by the prophet Muhammad. Its power drew Afghan kings and presidents and Taliban leaders to a small, blue shrine in a city conquered by Alexander the Great and contested ever since.

By the time Akhundzada inherited the guardianship in 2008, it was an honor that came at a high price. Five previous guardians — his father, brothers and cousins — had been assassinated, shot in their offices, in markets and airports. They were hunted, most believed, for their connection to a piece of Islamic history that the insurgency wanted desperately to reclaim.

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