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Suicide bomber kills 8 in Afghan capital

The blast strikes a heavily guarded area of Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. Officials say a former vice president, a brother of the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, may have been the intended target.

December 16, 2009|By Laura King
  • People inspect the site of a home in Kabul, Afghanistan, which was destroyed by a suicide car bomber.
People inspect the site of a home in Kabul, Afghanistan, which was destroyed… (Thomas L. Day / MCT )

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — With political tensions running high in advance of President Hamid Karzai's expected announcement this week of his new Cabinet, a suicide car bomber struck in the heart of Afghanistan's capital on Tuesday, killing eight people and injuring more than 40 others.

Officials said the target may have been former Vice President Ahmed Zia Massoud, whose house was heavily damaged in the attack. Massoud is the brother of Ahmed Shah Massoud, a much-revered leader of the anti-Taliban resistance who was assassinated in 2001, just before the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.

Massoud had left the residence shortly before the explosion and was not injured, said an aide, Isahaq Faiez. However, two of his bodyguards were among the dead.

Like many attackers, the bomber managed to penetrate a wealthy area of the capital where tight security measures are in place.

The ease with which attackers are able to gain access to high-security zones has raised suspicion of collusion between the Taliban and Afghan security forces.

The blast, which echoed across Kabul and sent plumes of black smoke billowing into the air, brought traffic in the city center to a near-standstill. Witnesses said it took ambulances some time to make their way to the scene, so neighbors and passersby helped the injured as best they could.

"There were no police; everybody was helping carry the wounded away themselves," said Farhad Yaftali, a construction company worker.

Aides to Massoud said they were certain that he was the intended target, although authorities initially thought the bomber might have been trying to approach a hotel several hundred yards away that is frequented by foreigners and diplomats.

A spokesman for Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, Zemeri Bashary, said the eight dead included four women. He said more than three dozen people were hurt.

The attack took place as senior Afghan officials were convening about a mile and a half away to discuss measures to combat corruption, a topic of keen interest to Western governments.

Karzai, who is beginning a second term as president after a fraud-tainted election, has been warned repeatedly that he must clean up graft and bribery in his government or face the potential loss of backing by the United States and other key members of the Western military coalition.

In a reminder of the continuing cost of the conflict as the United States prepares to increase its troop commitment by 30,000, military officials Tuesday disclosed the death of a U.S. serviceman a day earlier in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan, and reported the deaths of two British and two Afghan soldiers, also in the south.

Karzai's ministerial choices, which could be made known as early as today, are being carefully watched as a sign of whether the Afghan leader intends to follow through on pledges to rein in rampant corruption in his government.

In his speech to senior officials, Karzai declared that "our duty is to tackle corruption in government, whether trifling or very large-scale."

But he also referred to an abundance of "Western propaganda" on the subject, and defended the mayor of Kabul, who recently was convicted on corruption charges, as a "clean" politician.

laura.king@latimes.com

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