- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

BASHGAH, Afghanistan — Afghans buried their dead and surveyed the wreckage of their houses in a remote northern village yesterday, one day after a devastating explosion in the home of an anti-Taliban warlord killed at least 26 persons.

Officials said an illegal weapons cache caused the blast, highlighting the danger from arms amassed during a quarter-century of war and the task of disarming commanders wary of rivals and the country’s U.S.-backed government.

But the local commander defended himself yesterday, saying a stock of explosives destined for a road project had unexpectedly ignited and that he was in the process of handing over his last weapons to the government.

President Hamid Karzai said he was saddened by the disaster, one of the deadliest since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, and ordered an investigation.

The blast early Monday morning flattened a half-dozen homes and damaged a mosque in this hamlet in Baghlan province, 75 miles north of Kabul, as residents were returning home from prayer.

Yesterday, residents were still collecting body parts from the debris as relatives buried a 2-year-old girl called Wahida on a nearby hillside. The girl’s father, among dozens injured in the explosion, was being treated at the province’s only hospital.

Some residents seethed against warlord Jalal Bashgah, who was in a nearby town at the time of the blast, and arrived in the village yesterday morning to inspect the aftermath.

“Why did he have to keep explosives and ammunition in his house, which was so close to everyone else?” said one of several men who blamed the commander but refused to give their names, saying it could cause them trouble.

Mr. Bashgah’s immediate family lived elsewhere, but his two brothers lived in the compound and many in their families were killed.

Mr. Bashgah said there were 190 pounds of explosives and three crates of gunpowder in the basement, intended to improve the rough road along the valley.

He said there was also some ammunition as well — indicated by the spent bullet casings littering the blast site. He said he already had surrendered to the U.N. program a much larger cache dating to the resistance against Soviet forces in the 1980s.

Disposal activities of the U.N., U.S. and NATO forces, who report discovery of weapons caches almost daily, have netted a vast arsenal, though U.N. officials estimate there are many thousands of tons more scattered across the country.

Accidents with old ordnance have inflicted many casualties on Afghans, including children, farmers, and foreign troops.

In January 2004, eight U.S. soldiers died when a cache of arms they were preparing for disposal exploded prematurely.

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