Relatives gather around the body of a police commander killed in a bombing… (Naqeeb Ahmed / EPA )
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — The most important holiday of the Muslim calendar got off to a violent start in Afghanistan on Sunday when suspected insurgents staged a bombing outside a mosque in the north, killing at least seven worshipers and injuring more than a dozen other people, Afghan officials said.
The attack in Baghlan province, which came on the first day of the three-day Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice, was condemned by Afghan officials as un-Islamic. Gen. John Allen, the U.S. Marine who commands all Western forces in the country, called the bombing "despicable."
Only two days earlier, the Taliban movement's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, had issued an Eid message in which he called on his fighters to make a concerted effort to avoid causing civilian casualties. About three-quarters of noncombatant deaths and injuries are attributed by independent observers to the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
In his message, Omar blamed the presence of foreign troops for violence, but added that mujahedin, or holy warriors, "have to take every step to protect the lives … of ordinary people, in accordance with their religious responsibility."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday's attack. However, a number of insurgent groups operate in northern Afghanistan, and Omar generally has more authority over fighters in the Taliban's traditional heartland in the south.
Two bombers took part in the Baghlan attack, according to Afghan police, but one was shot dead before he could detonate his explosives. The police described all the dead as civilians, but said at least two were thought to be involved in local militias created in recent months with Western backing.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops have begun gradually handing over security responsibilities to Afghan police and soldiers in various parts of the country, and all or part of several northern provinces are to be included in the next phase of the security transition.
But some local officials have said Afghan forces are not sufficiently trained or equipped to take the lead in quelling the insurgency, and the north has been the scene of several high-profile attacks this year, previously a rarity.
Also Sunday, NATO's International Security Assistance Force reported the death of a service member, whose nationality was not disclosed, in western Afghanistan. Most U.S. troops are deployed in the country's south and east.
More than 500 members of the NATO force have died so far this year, three-quarters of them Americans, according to the independent website icasualties.org.