KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban warned the Afghan people on Friday not to take part in elections this weekend, saying they could get hurt, after gunmen believed to be from the group killed a candidate, the seventh so far.
National assembly candidate Abdul Hadi was shot dead on Thursday night in the southern province of Helmand, provincial spokesman Mohammad Wali Alizai said.
"The gunmen called at his house and when he came out they opened fire and killed him," he said, adding that the attackers were believed to be Taliban guerrillas.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for killing several of the seven candidates for Sunday”s national assembly and provincial council polls who have now been killed.
Speaking to Reuters on Friday, Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi denounced the elections as a U.S.-orchestrated "farce" and warned Afghans they would vote at their own risk.
The Taliban have previously said they would not target polling stations, but Hakimi said ordinary Afghans risked being hurt in attacks on foreign "occupation" forces on election day.
"The Taliban shura council appeals to the Afghan people not to take part in the September 18 elections as this election farce is also an American plan," he said, referring to the guerrillas” council of clerics.
"Therefore, not only should the Afghan people stay away from the elections, they should also try to sabotage them," he said by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.
"The Taliban have always tried not to hurt the common Afghan people, but they could get hurt during attacks and blasts at places where there are foreign troops," he said.
"If the Afghan people go to the polling stations for voting, they would themselves be responsible for any damage caused to them. However, the Taliban will try to ensure that only foreign troops are targeted and that the Afghan people remain safe."
Militant violence has been the main worry in the run-up to the landmark polls. More than 1,000 people have been killed this year, most of them militants but including 49 U.S. troops, the bloodiest period since the Taliban”s fall in 2001.
Violence has continued in insurgent-troubled central and southern provinces in the days leading up to the election, but there has been no dramatic spike in incidents.
On Wednesday, gunmen shot and wounded a woman candidate as she campaigned in the eastern province of Nuristan, and an Afghan interpreter for U.S. forces was killed and three U.S. soldiers have been wounded in roadside bomb attacks since then.
About 100,000 troops, including 22,000 U.S.-led forces and 10,000 NATO-led peacekeepers, will provide security for up to 12.5 million Afghans to vote.
Afghan and U.S. officials have both said that while the Taliban might try to sabotage the vote, the next big step in Afghanistan”s difficult path to stability, they would be unable to derail it.
Afghan police and troops will guard polling stations, with foreign forces providing support as needed.
The Interior Ministry said on Thursday that police had foiled more than 100 insurgent plots in the past month, including plans for bombings and suicide attacks, and had arrested a number of culprits including foreign nationals, such as Pakistanis.
While the Taliban have killed several candidates ahead of the elections, they have largely stuck to their policy of attacking government officials, religious leaders, soldiers and police.
The U.S. military said U.S. and Afghan forces killed four guerrillas after a roadside bomb attack in Kandahar province on Wednesday.