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Suicide attack kills 41 at Afghan mosque
KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber detonated explosives outside a mosque packed with senior regional officials in northern Afghanistan on a major Muslim holiday Friday, killing 41 people. The officials escaped unhurt, and many of the dead were soldiers and police.
The attack was the latest in a series of deadly strikes in recent weeks against Afghan army, police and government officials. The choice of targets suggests that the insurgents are increasingly turning against Afghan authorities and security forces now that NATO is drawing down toward a final withdrawal of foreign combat troops in 2014.
Deaths of Afghan police and soldiers are higher this year than last year, according army spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zaher Azimi. Although the Taliban have claimed responsibility for a parallel sharp increase in attacks by Afghan servicemen on their foreign colleagues, the overall number of coalition deaths has been noticeably lower than last year.
Health Minister Soraya Dalil said 41 people were killed and 56 wounded in Friday’s attack.
At least 14 civilians were among the dead, just two days after Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar urged his fighters to “pay full attention to the prevention of civilian casualties” because he said the enemy was trying to blame them on the insurgents. Taliban attacks account for the vast majority of civilian casualties in the war, according to the U.N.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the suicide bombing outside the mosque. The attack took place in the town of Maymana, capital of northern Faryab province, where the Taliban and allied militant groups have been active far from their traditional strongholds in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
The bomber struck after top provincial officials, including the governor and the police chief, had assembled inside the mosque to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday. The blast went off in the middle of a large crowd that included police and soldiers waiting for the dignitaries to remerge.
“The targets of the bomber were all the officials inside the mosque,” Deputy Governor Abdul Satar Barez said. Nobody inside the mosque was reported hurt. The carnage was all outside.
“There was blood and dead bodies everywhere,” said Khaled, a doctor who was in the mosque at the time of the blast and who, like many Afghans, uses only one name. “It was a massacre,” said Khaled, who like many Afghans uses only one name.
Video from the scene showed the motionless bodies of several soldiers and policemen lying next to their vehicles parked on a tree-lined avenue of the city, located about 500 kilometers (300 miles) northwest of the capital, Kabul. On the sidewalk, civilians were lying along the mosque’s outer wall, some writhing and moaning in pain.
Friday’s bombing took place at roughly the same time as Afghan President Hamid Karzai was taping his Eid al-Adha televised message to the nation. In the address, Karzai urged Taliban insurgents “to stop killing other Afghans” and “stop the destruction of our mosques, hospitals and schools.”
Later, Karzai issued a statement saying those who carried out Friday’s attack were “enemies of Islam and humanity.”
The NATO-led coalition’s commander, U.S. Gen. John R. Allen, also condemned the attack.
“This violence undertaken at a place of worship, and during Eid, once again shows the insurgency’s callous hypocrisy and disregard for religion and faith,” Allen said in a statement.
Insurgents have staged numerous suicide bombings at mosques during the 11-year war.
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