In the dusty streets and bazaars of Kandahar, the word of Karzai's death spread like wildfire. He was a much-feared figure, and some expressed relief over his death, saying he wielded life-and-death power over too many people. Others expressed apprehension over the struggle for spoils that seemed certain to follow his disappearance from the scene.
"He was a bad character," said a Kandahar shopkeeper named Assadullah, who uses only one name. "He was more powerful than the police, the governor, than anyone."
Assassinations are commonplace in Kandahar, and are sometimes carried out by trusted associates of the targeted person, or by someone in uniform who can circumvent the extremely heavy security that surrounds all prominent figures. In April, Kandahar's provincial police chief was killed by an assailant who managed to talk his way into the fortified police headquarters, saying he had an important message for the chief.
The Karzai compound, located in the center of Kandahar, was one of the city's most heavily secured complexes, with high concrete barriers and several layers of guards and checkpoints. Most vehicles could not enter, and guests routinely underwent body searches.
Karzai had survived several previous assassination attempts, but said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2009 that he did not dwell on his personal safety. "I never think about it," he said. "It's not something I can worry over."
Special correspondent Aimal Yaqoubi in Kabul and a special correspondent in Kandahar contributed to this report.