Turban bomber kills Afghan peace council chief
Former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani attends a ceremony with local officials as more than 100 members of the Taliban surrender themselves to the Afghan government Aug. 26, 2011, in Badakhshan, Afghanistan. / Getty Images
Updated at 3:46 p.m. ET
KABUL, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber posing as a Taliban peace envoy assassinated a former Afghan president who for the past year headed a government council trying to negotiate a political settlement with the insurgents.
Tuesday's attack, carried out in former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's Kabul home by a militant who detonated explosives hidden in his turban, dealt a harsh blow to efforts at ending a decade of war.
President Hamid Karzai cut short a visit to the U.S., calling on Afghans to remain unified in the face of Rabbani's "martyrdom." Rabbani's death came days after a daytime assault by insurgents on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters, deepening a sense of insecurity in the capital.
NATO said in a statement that two suicide bombers were involved in the attack on Rabbani, both of them men who had feigned a desire to reconcile with the government. It was unclear if a second bomber was able to detonate his explosives.
Afghan officials, however, insisted there was only one attacker. Four of Rabbani's bodyguards also died and a key presidential adviser was wounded in the bombing, they said.
Fazel Karim Aimaq, a former lawmaker from Kunduz province and a friend of Rabbani's, told reporters outside the former president's home that Rabbani had come back from a trip to Iran in order to meet with a man who had been described as a high-ranking Taliban contact. The visitor was shown into the house but not fully searched, Aimaq said. When Rabbani appeared, the man shook the former president's hand and bowed as a sign of respect, Aimaq said.
"Then his turban exploded," he said. Police confirmed that the bomb had been hidden in the turban.
A Pakistani foreign ministry official described the attack to CBS News' Farhan Bokhari in Islamabad as "tragic news."
"Just when Afghanistan needs to create unity in its ranks, there will be more divisions after President Rabbani's killing," a Pakistani intelligence official told Bokhari.
Author and CBS News analyst Jere Van Dyk called Rabbani's death "historic and extremely dangerous for Afghanistan."
Van Dyk met Rabbani in 1981 and last saw him in late 2006. Rabbani was a follower of the Muslim Brotherhood intellectual Sayeed Qutb, who was Osama bin Laden's favorite author and probably had the greatest intellectual influence on al Qaeda, Van Dyk reports. In an interview in 2006, Rabbani told Van Dyk that he brought Qutb's books to Kabul, thus introducing the group's fundamentalism to Afghanistan.
As an indication of the power he held in Afghanistan, Rabbani was the one who gave permission for bin Laden to land at Jalalabad airport when he returned from Sudan, Van Dyk reports.
But, Van Dyk reports, Rabbini's killing has nothing to do with Islam.
"He is, at heart, as fundamentalist and as religious as the most fundamentalist Muslim in the world," said Van Dyk. "It is very dangerous for the stability of Afghanistan."
Rabbani's death will dent efforts to keep in check the regional and ethnic rivalries that partly feed the insurgency. As one of the wise old men of Afghan politics and the leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, Rabbani's role in the attempts to seek a political deal with the Taliban with U.S. blessing will be hard to replace soon. His death could unleash a well of resentment among some senior Northern Alliance members, who accuse Karzai of colluding with the Taliban.
Already Afghanistan's ethnic minorities have begun to rearm in the face of negotiations with the Taliban. Rabbani's death is likely to accelerate that process and lay the foundation for a possible civil war once U.S. combat troops leave the country or take on support roles by the end of 2014.
President Obama said the killing will not deter the U.S. and Afghanistan from helping that country's people live freely. He said the former president's death is tragic because he was a man who cared deeply about Afghanistan. Mr. Obama commented at the start of a meeting in New York with Karzai.
Shukria Barakzai, a lawmaker from Kabul, was visibly shaken as she stood outside Rabbani's house in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of the city, near the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters.
"We don't want the whole peace process to get stuck," she said. "We have to continue, we have to."
Rabbani, who was about 70 years old, headed the country's High Peace Council, set up by the Afghan government to work toward a political solution to the decade-long war. It had made little headway since it was formed a year ago, but it was backed by many in the international community as an important first step toward a settlement.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Rabbani had played a key role in the peace process.
"He was a respected former president of Afghanistan and played a vital role as the chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council," Cameron said. "He will be sorely missed but the work of the Peace Council will go on. We remain determined to see Afghanistan prosper."
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