A suicide bomber struck Monday at a funeral for a provincial governor assassinated by the Taliban a day earlier, and four senior members of the government at the service escaped unhurt, officials and witnesses said. At least six people were killed and dozens were wounded.
The blast went off near a tent where more than 1,000 people had congregated in Tani district of Khost province in eastern Afghanistan at the funeral for Gov. Abdul Hakim Taniwal. He was killed Sunday along with two other people in a suicide attack outside his office in Gardez, the capital of neighboring Paktia province.
Taniwal was the most senior official killed in a series of attacks by supporters of the Islamic regime, which was ousted by U.S.-led forces for harboring Osama bin Laden in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
President Hamid Karzai, who counted Taniwal, a former minister of mines, as a close associate, condemned the bombing.
“The enemies of Afghanistan, by carrying out a terrorist attack on the funeral ceremony of Hakim Taniwal, showed that they are not only against the traditions and cultures of Afghans, but also against Islamic law,” he said.
Police, boy killed
Five police and a 12-year-old boy were killed, said Dr. Wali Shah at the government hospital in the Khost provincial capital, about 30 miles north of Tani. Dozens of people had been treated for injuries, and more than 20 were still hospitalized, including the deputy provincial police chief, he said. The attacker also died.
Four federal ministers — for interior, refugees, telecommunications and administrative affairs — were leaving the funeral when the powerful bomb went off, but were not hurt, said Mohammed Ayub, the provincial police chief. They had been about 800 yards away from the explosion, he said.
Police established two security cordons around the ministers who flew out soon after, he said.
An AP Television News cameraman at the scene said police fired warning shots in the air as the crowd panicked after the blast and rushed to escape, amid fears there might be a second bombing.
Mohammed Hanif, who claims to speak for the Taliban, had claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack and threatened more.
But he denied the militia’s involvement in Monday’s attack, saying it was against their policy “to bomb public and especially religious gatherings.” Hanif spoke by satellite phone from an undisclosed location to an Associated Press reporter in Pakistan.
Sunday’s attacker, with explosives attached to his body, ran toward Taniwal’s car as he left the office and detonated a bomb. The governor’s nephew and a bodyguard also died. Three police were wounded.
The attack came amid a surge in violence that has left hundreds dead across Afghanistan in recent months, the bloodiest period since the Taliban’s ouster. The deadliest violence has been in the south, where NATO-led forces have been struggling to restore order. Their presence has sparked intense fighting with insurgents.
The alliance reported Monday that a 10-day offensive airstrikes and artillery near the main southern city of Kandahar have killed another 92 suspected Taliban fighters, pushing its toll of militant dead past 510.
There has been no independent confirmation of the casualty numbers from Operation Medusa, which began Sept. 2. Hostilities have prevented journalists from reaching the battlefield. Taliban spokesmen have disputed the high figures and said the alliance should display bodies as proof.