- Associated Press - Friday, October 8, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A provincial governor and at least 19 other people were killed by a massive bomb blast inside a packed mosque during Friday prayers in northern Afghanistan, where insurgents have stepped up violence amid intensified NATO-Afghan military operations.

Thirty-five people were wounded in the explosion while praying at the Shirkat mosque in Takhar province, said Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary.

Gen. Shah Jahan Noori, the provincial police chief, said the governor of neighboring Kunduz province, Mohammad Omar, was killed along with 14 other people. The bomb was meant to kill Mr. Omar, who regularly attends Friday prayers at the mosque, Takhar Gov. Abdul Jabar Taqwa said.

“He was the target, and the terrorists were able to kill him,” Mr. Taqwa said. “This is a big loss for us because Mohammad Omar was a very brave and good governor.”

Wounded people wrapped in blood-stained blankets were rushed to the hospital. One man, his face charred black from the blast, was carried on a stretcher.

Afghans shout anti-American slogans during a protest in Khost, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010. Firing from NATO helicopters in an eastern province Friday killed six Afghan militiamen who purportedly shot at the aircraft, an Afghan official said. (AP Photo/Nashanuddin Khan)
Afghans shout anti-American slogans during a protest in Khost, east of Kabul, ... more >

No group claimed responsibiility, but the Taliban have targeted Mr. Omar previously.

One of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial governors, he survived at least three previous assassination attempts, including ambushes and roadside bombs. A bombing along a main highway in May 2009 slightly wounded him. Mr. Omar blamed the “enemies of peace and security.”

In an Afghan television interview last week, Mr. Omar said if security wasn’t increased in Kunduz province, insurgents would not only be a threat to northern Afghanistan, but to neighboring nations as well. Mr. Omar said his province was home to Afghan militants as well as foreign fighters.

Kunduz was being used by insurgents to stage attacks throughout the region, he said.

Afghan officials are prime targets for the Taliban and other militant groups that have instituted an assassination campaign against people who work with the Afghan government or NATO forces.

On Sept. 28, a suicide bomber killed a deputy provincial governor and five others in Ghazni in eastern Afghanistan. The bomber rammed a motorized rickshaw loaded with explosives into a convoy taking Deputy Gov. Khazim Allayar to his office in Ghazni city. His son, a nephew, a bodyguard and two civilians also were killed.

Northern Takhar has been the scene of escalating violence amid intensified military operations by NATO and Afghan forces in recent days.

Sixteen militants were killed in air raids and ground fighting overnight Wednesday in the Darqad, Yangi Qala and Khwaja Bahawuddin districts of Takhar, Gen. Noori said. More than a dozen insurgents were wounded.

Gen. Noori said his convoy was ambushed early Thursday and four attackers were killed in a gunbattle that lasted several hours.

Meanwhile, NATO helicopters killed six Afghan militiamen Friday in eastern Khost province that borders Pakistan, said Youqib Khan, the deputy provincial police chief.

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