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Car bomb kills 8 in eastern Afghanistan

The suicide bomber's explosion rocks the outskirts of Khost, site of a large U.S.-run military base known as Camp Salerno.

February 18, 2011|By Laura King | Los Angeles Times
  • Afghan security personnel examine the site of a suicide bombing in Khost, east of Kabul.
Afghan security personnel examine the site of a suicide bombing in Khost,… (Rasool Adil, AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — A massive car bomb blew up Friday on the outskirts of a city in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least eight people and injuring dozens -- an attack that authorities said could have been far worse if the suicide bomber had been able to make his way into the more crowded city center.

The thunderous explosion rocked the edge of Khost city, the capital of the eastern province of the same name, which is the site of a large American-run military base known as Camp Salerno. Khost was also the site, 14 months ago, of a suicide bombing at a smaller U.S. installation that killed seven CIA workers, the agency's worst single-day loss in nearly three decades.

Khost's provincial police chief, Gen. Abdul Hakim Isahaqzai, said authorities had been tipped off about a planned bombing, and hunted fruitlessly all night for the would-be attacker. At about 9 a.m., officials said, a suspicious-looking SUV-type vehicle blew past a police checkpoint about half a mile from the city center. When police fired what were described as warning shots, the driver detonated his explosives.

"He was trying to get to the center," Isahaqzai said. "This prevented a much more tragic incident."

As it was, dozens were caught up in the powerful blast, which echoed across the city and filled the air with smoke, dust and debris. Many people were shopping or running errands in the few hours remaining before Friday prayers, the main religious event of the Muslim week.

Two police officers at the checkpoint were among the eight dead -- reminiscent of an attack earlier in the week in the capital, Kabul, in which both people killed were guards who stopped the bomber from entering a shopping mall. The 41 people injured, most of them passers-by, included women and children, police said.

Eastern Afghanistan, where large numbers of U.S. troops are deployed, is highly vulnerable to infiltration by insurgents based across the border in Pakistan's tribal areas. Khost is a key operating ground for a Taliban offshoot known as the Haqqani network, which is mainly based across the frontier in North Waziristan.

Over the last year, the NATO force says it has captured or killed dozens of command-level figures belonging to the organization inside Afghanistan. Another such capture had taken place in Khost on Thursday, Western military officials said.

laura.king@latimes.com

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