Afghans Hit By 2nd Deadly Suicide Blast

Afghans carry the body of a victim who was killed by Sunday's suicide attack for a funeral service, in Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday, Feb. 18, 2008. A second blast in Kandahar province on Monday killed at least 35 people, according to police.
AP Photo/Allauddin Khan
As relatives and friends buried the victims Monday of the deadliest blast to hit Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S. invasion, another suicide bomber killed 35 civilians at a busy market in the same province, a police official said.

At least 28 people were wounded in the market attack, apparently targeting a Canadian military convoy in Spin Boldak, a town in Kandahar province near the border with Pakistan, said Abdul Razeq, the Spin Boldak border police chief. Two Canadian soldiers were wounded, he said.

The death toll from the Sunday blast on the outskirts of Kandahar city rose to more than 100 on Monday, according to a provincial governor, who also said he had warned an anti-Taliban militia leader targeted in the attack that militants were trying to kill him.

Sunday's suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of men and boys watching a dog fighting competition in the southern city of Kandahar.

Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid told The Associated Press the death toll from the Sunday blast had risen to more than 100, up from 80. Most victims were killed immediately, though some of the scores of Afghans critically wounded had died, Khalid said. He did not give a precise toll.

The bombing was the deadliest in Afghanistan since the Taliban's ouster from power in 2001 and follows a year of record violence and predictions the conflict could turn even deadlier in 2008.

Officials said the suicide attacker targeted a militia leader, Abdul Hakim Jan, who died in the attack, along with 35 of his men. Khalid told mourners at a mosque he had warned Jan about three weeks ago that militant suicide bombers were trying to target him.

Khalid blamed the bombing Sunday on the "enemy of Afghanistan" - terminology frequently used by officials to refer to the Taliban. A Taliban spokesman said he didn't immediately know if the militants were responsible. The Taliban often claim responsibility immediately after major attacks against police and army forces - often naming the bombers - but shy away from claiming attacks with high civilian casualties.

Kandahar - the Taliban's former stronghold and Afghanistan's second largest city - is one of the country's largest opium poppy producing areas. The province has been the scene of fierce battles between NATO forces, primarily from Canada and the United States, and Taliban fighters over the last two years.

Dog fighting competitions are a popular form of entertainment around Afghanistan. The fights can attract hundreds of spectators who cram into a tight circle around the spectacle. The sport was banned during the Taliban rule.

The blast crumpled several Afghan police trucks and left bloodstains around the barren dirt field. Afghan soldiers donated blood at Kandahar's main hospital after the attack, said Dr. Durani, who goes by only one name.

"There are too many patients here," he said. "Some of them are in very serious condition."

Wali Karzai, brother of President Hamid Karzai and the president of Kandahar's provincial council, said Monday that Jan was the target of the attack

Jan was the provincial police chief in Kandahar in the early 1990s and was the only commander in the province to stand up to the Taliban during its rule, said Khalid Pashtun, a parliamentarian who represents Kandahar.

"Hakim Jan is one of the important, prominent jihadi commanders in Kandahar," Pashtun said. "There were so many people gathered and of course the Taliban and al Qaeda usually target this kind of important people."

Jan was most recently appointed the commander of an auxiliary police force - often shorthand for a local militia operating with government approval - to protect the Arghandab, a strategic area north of Kandahar. The area was overrun briefly by the Taliban late last year after the local leader, Mullah Naqibullah, died of heart attack.

A joint Afghan, NATO and U.S. force pushed the militants out of Arghandab. Shortly after, NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, visited Arghandab to reassure local leaders of the alliance's commitment to help President Hamid Karzai's government keep the area under their control.

Suicide attacks have been on the rise in Afghanistan, but rarely have they killed so many people. Militants carried out more than 140 suicide attacks in 2007, a record number.

Faizullah Qari Gar, a resident of Kandahar who was at the dog fight, said militant commanders' bodyguards opened fire on the crowd after the bombing.

"In my mind there were no Taliban to attack after the blast but the bodyguards were shooting anyway," he said.

The previous deadliest bomb attack came in November in the northern city of Baghlan, when a suicide bombing and subsequent gunfire from bodyguards killed about 70 people including six parliamentarians and 58 students and teachers. Investigators never determined how many of the deaths were caused by the blast and how many by the gunfire.