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Deadly day in Afghanistan includes bombing in Kabul

Separate bomb attacks in Kabul and the province of Kunar target members of the Afghan intelligence service. Meanwhile, bombs kill six members of the NATO force.

January 13, 2011|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber on a motorbike blew himself up Wednesday next to a minibus carrying members of Afghanistan's main intelligence service, killing at least two other people and injuring more than 30. It was the second bombing in the capital in eight days, a slight but worrying uptick in attacks in Kabul.

At almost the same time, a remote-controlled bomb killed the deputy intelligence chief and his driver in the eastern province of Kunar.

The dual attacks on intelligence officials coincided with a deadly day for Western troops in Afghanistan. Six members of the NATO force were killed by improvised bombs, five in the country's east, and one in the south. Their nationalities were not disclosed by the Western military, but Americans make up the bulk of troops in both those regions.

Adding to the turmoil, a spokesman for Afghanistan's attorney general said an investigation had been launched on possible wrongdoing at Kabul Bank, the nation's largest financial institution, which nearly collapsed last year and is now under the stewardship of the nation's central bank. Kabul Bank's major shareholders include a number of people close to President Hamid Karzai.

The Kabul explosion, which took place during morning rush hour on a crowded road in the western part of the city, came as Vice President Joe Biden was concluding a visit to Afghanistan. The vice president, who departed about 90 minutes after the blast, had traveled to an air base north of Kabul after meeting Karzai in the capital Tuesday.

The Taliban took responsibility for both bombings, and boasted that the one in Kabul had killed 14 people. It is not unusual for the movement to make exaggerated claims about an attack's effectiveness.

The head of the criminal investigation department for the Kabul police, Gen. Mohammad Zahir, identified the dead as an officer with the National Directorate of Security, the nation's premier intelligence service, and one civilian, in addition to the bomber. Six of the 32 injured were NDS personnel, he said, and the others were civilian bystanders.

The toll could rise, officials said, because at least two people suffered critical injuries.

The attack took place near the ruins of a former imperial palace, close to the city's main psychiatric hospital. Zahir noted that motorists usually try to avoid even honking their horns in the vicinity of the mental asylum, so as not to frighten or disturb the patients.

"But the person who committed such a harrowing and brutal incident in front of the psychiatric hospital can't be counted as human," he said. Half a dozen people in the building, including patients and medical personnel, were hurt by flying glass, though none seriously.

Karzai condemned the bombing, as did the U.S. Embassy and NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Recently, Western military officials had pointed to a drop-off in attacks in Kabul, and linked that decrease at least in part to the success of targeted strikes against the Haqqani network, a Taliban offshoot based in Pakistan's tribal area of North Waziristan. The Haqqanis were responsible for a number of spectacular attacks in the Afghan capital in 2008 and '09.

Before last week's bombing in Kabul, which killed a policeman, an attack in December on a military bus on the city's outskirts killed five Afghan army personnel. That was the first major strike in Kabul since May, when a suicide bomber attacked a convoy carrying senior Western military officials, killing 18 people. The dead in that strike included six members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force, several of them high-ranking officers.

It was not clear whether the Kabul attack was planned as a strike against the intelligence service or the minibus was a target of opportunity. The Afghan intelligence services are thought to have played a significant role in pinpoint strikes by Western and Afghan troops against midlevel Taliban commanders, which the NATO force says have damaged the movement's command structure.

laura.king@latimes.com

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