A suicide bomber attacked a funeral in north-east Afghanistan on Sunday, killing at least 19 people including an MP and wounding dozens of others, officials said.
The attacker, who was wearing a suicide vest, blew himself up among a crowd of mourners gathered for the funeral of a government official in Taluqan city, the capital of Takhar province.
“We have 19 dead including an MP, Abdulmutalib Baig, and more than 40 wounded, mostly civilians,” said Takhar provincial governor Abdul Jabar Taqwa.
“I was also invited to this ceremony but I didn’t go. The target was either me or the MP.”
Baig was a former Mujahedeen commander and the former police chief of Kunduz province. He was working with opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah in the newly established National Coalition of Afghanistan.
“This ruthless act of terror to target innocent people who had gathered for a religious ceremony yet again demonstrates the vile and vicious nature of the enemy who do not want to see the Muslim people of Afghanistan to perform even their Islamic rituals,” Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai said.
Both the provincial police chief General Khair Mohammad Temor and the interior ministry confirmed the death toll. Temor said there were no women among the dead and more than 50 were wounded.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility and the Taliban, who are leading an insurgency against Afghan government forces and US-led international troops, were not reachable for comment.
Peace talks with the Taliban in the hope of finding a political settlement after 10 years of war have stalled in the wake of the September assassination of government peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani and continued violence.
Takhar province is one of the areas being handed over by Nato in the second wave of transition to Afghan security forces ahead of the planned withdrawal of foreign combat forces by the end of 2014.
There have been a number of high-profile attacks in the province in the last year, including the assassination of anti-Taliban northern Afghanistan police commander General Mohammad Daud Daud.
“This reprehensible attack … illustrates that the Taliban and other insurgents are waging a murderous campaign against innocent Afghan civilians and exposes as false calls by [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar during the Eid al-Adha … on their followers not to kill civilians,” the US embassy said in a statement.
Elsewhere, in eastern Afghanistan, an ISAF service member died after an insurgent attack on Christmas day. The nationality was not disclosed in line with policy.
The death came after an Afghan soldier was killed in a separate gunfight with US troops after he opened fire during an argument on Christmas eve, officials said.
US troops were also injured in the incident on Saturday after the Afghan soldier began shooting and coalition troops returned fire in south-west Farah province, Afghan army and police officials said.
“Last night in Bala Boluk an Afghan army soldier opened fire on foreign forces,” said Najibullah Najibi, spokesperson for the Afghan army in western Afghanistan.
“Four foreign forces have been wounded in this incident and the Afghan soldier has been killed.”
A spokesperson for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force said there were no coalition fatalities but would not comment on ISAF casualties in line with policy.
Coalition troops often carry out joint operations with Afghan army and police. But violent incidents are not uncommon and Afghan security forces or those purporting to be have carried out several attacks on ISAF soldiers.
There are now 180 000 Afghan National Army soldiers. The Afghan security forces have grown quickly, raising fears over the quality of recruits and even Taliban infiltration.
Meanwhile, the interior ministry said in the space of 24 hours Afghan security forces killed 30 armed insurgents in various operations around the country in which a number of weapons were found. — AFP