A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle packed with explosives rammed into a car carrying the deputy governor of Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province on Saturday, killing him and wounding three of his bodyguards, the Interior Ministry said.
The attacker struck as the official, Abdul Latif Ashna, was being driven to work in the provincial capital, said a ministry spokesman, Zemeri Bashary.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. In a text message to reporters, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef said the suicide bomber killed the deputy governor as well as three of his body guards and his driver.
The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, condemned the killing and offered his condolences to the official's family.
"The loss of a great deputy governor like this is a setback," he said. "What we have seen is that consistently, Afghan government leaders emerge and the people continue to rally in an effort to establish security in this province and build a strong government."
He spoke at Kandahar Air Field, where he was attending a naturalization ceremony for U.S. service members becoming American citizens at the base.
Kandahar, located in the Taliban's traditional southern stronghold, has been the scene of several attacks recently. Two weeks ago a bicycle bomb targeting police vehicles near the city center wounded at least 10 people — six civilians and four police. Last month, a suicide car bombing in the city center killed three people and wounded 26 others, most of them police.
In Kabul, more than 200 demonstrators rallied at the Iranian Embassy to protest the execution of Afghans in Iran and call on Tehran to release Afghan political prisoners. Similar protests, all organized by the National Solidarity Party, attracted hundreds of other demonstrators in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and Herat in the west.
Protesters in the capital carried signs that said "Death to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," showed photographs of Afghans held in Iran and depicted blood dripping from the red stripe of the Iranian flag.
Afghan lawmakers have claimed that as many as 45 Afghans had been executed in Iran, but the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that number is exaggerated. The ministry, which has raised the issue with Iranian officials in Tehran, has confirmed the execution of six Afghans in Iran but has not provided details about why they were killed.
"The ones fighting for freedom have been jailed in Iran," said Mohammad Yama, who helped organize the protest in Kabul. "We are here to show our unity. We wanted to burn down our effigy of Ahmadinejad, but the Afghan police took it away."
Residents of the Afghan capital were still reeling on Saturday from Friday's suicide bombing inside a supermarket popular with Westerners. Eight people — some of them foreigners — died in the attack, which showed insurgents can still strike forcibly in Kabul despite tightened security. Fifteen other people were injured when the suicide bomber walked in to the store and detonated his cache of explosives.
The Taliban said their target was an official with the U.S.-based Xe security contractor, formerly known as Blackwater. A representative for USTC Holdings, which recently bought the North Carolina-based Xe, said no one associated with the company was killed or wounded in the bombing.
A senior international intelligence official in Kabul said Saturday that the Taliban's Haqqani network, which has ties to al-Qaida, carried out the attack, but that there was no intelligence to suggest that the security contractor was being targeted. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose the information.
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt in Kandahar and Deb Riechmann in Kabul contributed to this report.