Worst Afghan Death Toll Since 2001

Afghan President Hamid Karzai talks to Afghan police chiefs and senior police officials of Afghanistan's 34 provinces during a three day seminar at the Serena hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007. His speech came as twin blasts killed at least 64 people, including some lawmakers, in northern Afghanistan.
AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says the death toll in a suicide bombing north of Kabul has risen to 41, making the attack the deadliest in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

Wednesday, Karzai declared three days of national mourning and blamed the attack on "the enemies of peace and security," a euphemism often used for the militant Taliban. The Taliban has denied involvement.

Schoolchildren were lined up to greet lawmakers visiting Afghanistan's normally peaceful north Tuesday when a bomb ripped through the crowd. Six members of parliament are among the dead and about half of the 81 people who were wounded are children.

The attack outside a sugar factory killed a founder of the country's main opposition group. No one claimed responsibility, and a Taliban spokesman denied the militant group was involved.

The blast occurred as 18 lawmakers were about to enter the factory in Baghlan, a town about 95 miles north of Kabul. It struck children, tribal elders and government officials gathered to greet the delegation, officials said.

Taliban bombers have killed regional governors in the past, but never so many public figures at once.

Kamin Khan, a police official, said the dead and wounded were lying "everywhere" at the scene after the blast, also including police and officials from the Department of Agriculture.

"The children were standing on both sides of the street, and were shaking the hands of the officials, then suddenly the explosion happened," the doctor said.

Shukria Barakzai, a lawmaker, said 18 of the 249 members of Afghanistan's lower house of parliament had traveled to Baghlan for the event.

"This heinous act of terrorism is against Islam and humanity and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms," said Karzai. "It is the work of the enemies of peace and security in Afghanistan."

The northern region where the blast happened is known for tensions between the mainly ethnic Tajik government leadership and remnants of the militant group Hezb-i-Islami, whose fugitive leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an ethnic Pashtun, has joined the Taliban and al Qaeda in fighting the Afghan government though he denies organizational links.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied the militant group is involved in the attack. "The Taliban doesn't target civilians," he said.

Taliban attacks typically target Afghan and international security forces or government leaders but often kill civilians nearby. Most of their attacks are in the country's south or east.

The Interior Ministry spokesman, Zemeri Bashary, blamed the attack on the "enemy of Afghanistan, the enemy of the people of Afghanistan," a term commonly used here to refer to Taliban and al Qaeda militants.

Commander Kamin Khan, a police official in Baghlan, said the lawmakers had come to visit a cement factory and the sugar factory to talk to local leaders and about privatizing the government-owned facilities. The lawmakers were part of parliament's economic commission.

Among the fatalities was Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, a former Afghan commerce minister and a powerful member of the Northern Alliance, said the lawmaker's secretary, Ahmadi, who uses only one name.

Kazimi served as spokesman of the largest opposition group in Afghanistan, the National Front.

Two other parliamentarians were killed in attacks in Kabul earlier this year. More than 5,700 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.

In the central Afghan province of Day Kundi, 60 Taliban militants on motorbikes and pickup trucks overran a district center, firing on the town from a mountain outlook, pushing out the police and cutting off the town's main road, the provincial governor said Tuesday. The Kajran district, in Day Kundi province, is the third overrun by militants in the last week.

In the south, rockets hit a small Canadian military outpost in Kandahar province Tuesday while Canada's defense minister, Peter MacKay, was visiting. A rocket landed in a cloud of smoke and dust about 50 yards from soldiers and reporters, who dived to the ground for cover. MacKay was not hurt.