FORMER Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was leading peace efforts in the war-torn country, was assassinated late last night in a suicide attack at his Kabul home.
Two of Mr Rabbani’s close political allies said he had been killed after police confirmed a suicide explosion in the former president’s street.
“Yes, he is dead,” said one of the two sources, both of whom wept as they confirmed the news to by telephone.
Mr Rabbani was the chief of President Hamid Karzai’s High Council for Peace which is tasked with negotiating with the Taliban, so far unsuccessfully.
The blast, which happened close to the US embassy, is the second attack within a week to strike within Kabul’s supposedly secure diplomatic zone.
An Agence France-Presse reporter said that an ambulance had arrived at the scene and surrounding roads were blocked off by police.
Earlier across the border in Pakistan gunmen shot dead 26 Shiite Muslim pilgrims travelling to Iran, the deadliest attack on the minority community in Pakistan for more than a year.
In a brutal assault, gunmen ordered pilgrims off their bus, lined them up and assassinated them in a hail of gunfire in Mastung, a district 50km south of Quetta, the capital of the southwest Baluchistan province.
“The attackers stopped the bus and forced the pilgrims to get off, lined them up and then opened fire,” said local deputy commissioner Saeed Imrani.
At least six people were wounded, four of them are in a critical condition.
Much of Pakistan, a key US ally in the war on Al-Qa’ida and the 10-year fight against the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, suffers from near daily Islamist militant violence.
Baluchistan has increasingly become a flashpoint for sectarian violence between Pakistan’s majority Sunni Muslims and minority Shi’ites.
“It is an emergency-like situation. We are taking the dead and injured to hospitals. Twenty-six pilgrims were killed and six wounded,” Shah Nawaz, another government official told private TV channel Geo.
It was the deadliest attack on Shiites in Pakistan since September 4, 2010 when a suicide bomber killed at least 57 people at a Shi’ite rally in Quetta.
The bus driver, Khushal Khan, recounted harrowing details of the attack to reporters for two Pakistani TV channels who quickly reached the scene.
“There was no security on our bus. Eight to 10 attackers armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers stopped the bus and forced all the passengers to get off,” he said. “Forty-five passengers were travelling. Some of them managed to escape. I also managed to escape. The attackers then fled in their vehicle.”
TV channel Express News broadcast footage of dead bodies lying in a pool of blood alongside caps and shoes. Ambulances and rescue workers were shown recovering bodies on stretchers.
Shi’ites account for around a fifth of the country’s 167 million population, which is dominated by Sunnis.