Suicide bomb kills senior Afghan official

Taliban has claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing which killed the deputy governor of Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province, the insurgents’ spiritual home.

“Deputy governor Abdul Latif Ashna had just left his home and was on his way to his office when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up near his vehicle,” Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa said after yesterday’s attack.

One of his bodyguards and his driver were wounded, as were two passers-by, he added. A fifth person was slightly hurt and did not need hospital treatment.

“This is the work of enemies of Afghanistan, the Taliban. They kill anyone who is working for Afghanistan’s future, to rebuild the country,” the governor added.

A Taliban spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi, claimed responsibility for the attack.

“One of our jihadists… blew up his motorcycle near the vehicle of Abdul Latif Ashna, the deputy governor of Kandahar, killing the deputy governor and wounding his driver and four of his bodyguards. There were no civilian victims,” he said.

A policeman at the scene, Abdel Ahmad, confirmed that a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up as Mr Ashna left his residence.

Mr Ashna, a trained engineer, had been deputy governor since April 2010. He previously worked for UN Habitat, the UN program to improve the urban environment, before teaching at Kandahar University.

He also headed the provincial branch of the ministry of rural development.

Kandahar, the birthplace of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, is at the heart of a nine-year insurgency by the Islamic militants who were toppled from government by a US-led invasion after the September 11 attacks.

Besides foreign troops and Afghan soldiers and police, the Taliban also regularly target local officials whom they accuse of being traitors working with the international forces and the Western-backed Kabul government.

The deputy mayor of Kandahar, Noor Ahmad Nazari, was killed in October, six months after his predecessor was assassinated.

Governor Wesa himself survived a bomb attack on his convoy in November 2009.

Yesterday’s attack on the deputy governor came a day after a suicide bomber blew himself up in a central Kabul supermarket popular with Westerners. The death toll rose to nine, including three foreign women, following the death of one of the wounded, police said.

Six of the victims were the son of a former Afghan senator, his rights activist wife and their four children, President Hamid Karzai said, offering his condolences to former senator Mahbooba Huqoqmal over the death of her son and his family.

The Taliban also claimed responsibility for the attack, the first to target foreign civilians in the capital since August 2010.

There are around 140,000 international troops, two-thirds of them from the United States, in Afghanistan fighting the insurgents.

Foreign troops are due to start a limited, conditions-based withdrawal from July, and Afghan forces are scheduled to take over responsibility for security in 2014.

The latest bombing underscored the perilous security in parts of the southern province, despite it being the focus of the US-led military strategy to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

US officials say the American-led military campaign in the south is make-or-break for the war, pinning their hopes on undermining the militants in their heartland and limiting the number of such attacks.

Last year was the deadliest for Western troops in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban regime, with 711 foreign soldiers killed.

A year after sending 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan in a surge strategy designed to overcome the Taliban, US President Barack Obama said last month that the war was on track but gains were fragile.

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