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28 dead in Afghan weapons' dump explosion

A blast at an ammunition dump in a northern Afghan village killed 28 people and wounded 70 on Monday, a government spokesman said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An arms cache hidden by an Afghan warlord exploded in a bunker beneath his home early Monday, killing 28 people, injuring 13 and devastating surrounding buildings, officials said.

The weapons were stored in Bashgah, a remote village in Baghlan province, 75 miles north of the capital, Kabul, Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal said.

It was not known what triggered the blast, official said. Afghanistan is awash with old weapons, many of them stored during the resistance against occupying Soviet forces during the 1980s.

The explosion “damaged the whole village, including the mosque and six houses,” Mashal told The Associated Press.

Mashal said the cache was hidden in a bunker under the house of a warlord and former government militia commander named Jalal Bashgah, apparently to conceal the weapons from a U.N.-sponsored disarmament drive.

Warlord not at home
Baghlan Police chief Gen. Fazeluddin Ayar said Basghah’s house was flattened and eight of the commander’s family were killed or injured. However, Bashgah was not at home at the time, Ayar told AP.

Officials initially reported that Bashgah was believed to have been killed and more than 70 people injured, but Ayar said police who rushed to the scene found 13 injured.

The cache included a large number of rockets and dated from “a long time ago,” Ayar said, adding that the commander had given up only a portion of his weapons to the disarmament program, which has so far demobilized more than 50,000 former militiamen.

Police and emergency teams rushed to the scene and evacuated those injured in Monday’s explosion, the ensuing fire and a series of secondary blasts.

The U.S. military and the separate NATO-led force in Afghanistan report the discovery of old weapons caches almost daily.

Accidents are frequent and have inflicted casualties on foreign troops and Afghans alike. Explosions involving land mines and unexploded ordnance strewn across the country during more than a quarter-century of conflict also are common.

Eight U.S. soldiers were fatally wounded in Ghazni province in January 2004 when a cache of arms they were preparing for disposal exploded accidentally.