KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – A suicide attacker who appears to have concealed his explosives inside a turban killed a senior cleric and at least three other people on Thursday at a funeral service for the assassinated brother of the Afghan president in southern Kandahar city.
At least 15 people were also wounded in the midday attack at the city’s Red Mosque, the Interior Ministry said. Cabinet ministers and relatives of President Hamid Karzai had been among the mourners, but escaped unscathed.
The attack came just two days after a trusted family associate killed Ahmad Wali Karzai, probably the most powerful and controversial man in southern Afghanistan, at his home.
His death has created a dangerous power vacuum in Kandahar, that some fear could spark a wave of greater violence in an already volatile city. Kandahar was the site of over half of all targeted killings in Afghanistan between April and June.
A weeping Karzai buried his brother on Wednesday and moved swiftly to give another brother a key tribal role left vacant, in an apparent attempt to pre-empt political infighting.
President Karzai had returned to Kabul after the burial so was not at the service, his spokesman Waheed Omer said. Omer added that the bomber appeared to have hidden the explosives in his turban.
“Four people, including a child were martyred. Among the dead was the head of the provincial Ulema Council, Hikmatullah Hikmat,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement. An Ulema Council is a body of clerics that regulates religious issues.
Ambulances and vehicles used by senior officials rushed to the city’s Red Mosque after the blast, and security officials scrambled to block off nearby roads.
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said security operations following the blast in Kandahar were being led by Afghan forces but that ISAF was providing air support helicopters at their request.
FUNERAL, MOSQUE ATTACKS
The Taliban could not immediately be reached for comment on the Kandahar attack.
Religion is at the core of their ideology and they have in the past denied any role in attacks on religious sites, even when they appear to further their military strategy.
But targeting funerals and mosques is a tactic that has been used before in other parts of the country, and insurgent networks are the only groups fighting in Afghanistan that use suicide bombers.
Services tend to bring together large numbers of prominent figures, and can be difficult to police as they also attract hundreds, or even thousands of ordinary Afghans.
Last month, a suicide bomber attacked a memorial service for the assassinated police chief for northern Afghanistan, General Dawood Dawood, killing at least four policemen. The Taliban denied responsibility for that attack.
In October, the governor of northern Kunduz province was killed along with at least a dozen others, when a bomb ripped through the mosque where they were praying. It was the most high-profile attack in over a year and also killed the imam.
In July 2010, a candidate for Afghanistan’s September parliamentary elections was killed and 20 others wounded by a bomb planted in a mosque in southeastern Khost province.
Fifteen insurgents were killed the previous month by the premature explosion of a bomb they were assembling at a mosque in southeastern Paktika province. Eight of the militants killed were Arab, while five were from Pakistan and the other two were Afghans, according to the interior ministry.