KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Seven Afghans have been arrested in connection with a suicide bombing last week that killed six NATO soldiers, officials said Monday. The Afghan government accused Pakistan’s intelligence service of a role in their training.
A total of 18 people — including three American colonels and a Canadian colonel — were killed in last Tuesday’s bombing near the destroyed royal palace. It was the deadliest attack against coalition forces in the Afghan capital in eight months.
The spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service, Saeed Ansari, told reporters the seven, including a schoolteacher, were taken into custody separately over the last week and were under the command of the Taliban’s “shadow governor” of Kabul, Daoud Surkha, who the Afghans allege is hiding in Pakistan.
It was not clear what role the seven played in the attack.
“We are saying that they have been trained on the other side of the border, so it is clear that the intelligence service of our neighboring country has its role in the training and supporting of this terrorist group,” he said in a clear reference to Pakistan.
In Islamabad, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit called the allegation “all baseless and groundless.”
Taliban fighters still use the lawless border areas of Pakistan as a sanctuary despite Pakistani military operations and U.S. drone attacks.
Mr. Ansari said the seven were part of a Taliban cell responsible for numerous other attacks in the capital, including last February’s assault against guesthouses frequented by Indians in which six Indians were killed. Previously Mr. Ansari blamed the attack on the Pakistan-based insurgent group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India blames for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that claimed 166 lives.
Last Tuesday’s car bombing was followed a day later by a ground assault against the U.S.-run Bagram Air Field north of Kabul, and an attack Saturday on the giant Kandahar Air Field, the biggest NATO base in southern Afghanistan.
Those attacks appeared part of a Taliban operation announced this month, even as NATO gears up for a major offensive around Kandahar, the largest city in the south and a longtime Taliban stronghold.
NATO announced a coalition soldier was killed by a bomb Monday in southern Afghanistan but did not identify the nationality.
Elsewhere, officials said insurgents on motorbikes shot and killed a tribal elder in northern Afghanistan who had resisted Taliban in the region and who planned to attend an upcoming government-organized peace conference.
Tribal elder Horal Mohammad Zabet was watching over his flock of grazing sheep with his son Saturday when about 15 gunmen on motorbikes drove up and surrounded Mr. Zabet.
“They started shooting from two directions at my father. He took out his gun and fired back at them, but after 20 minutes of shooting he was dead,” said the son, Abdul Qayum Halimi. He tried to call for help but it was about 6 p.m. — the time Taliban shut off phone service in the area — so he couldn’t get through to anyone.
Mr. Zabet, a former mujahedeen fighter against the Soviets, was the leader of about 100,000 families in Dawlat Abad district of Faryab province.
Recently, Mr. Zabet received an invitation to attend the upcoming peace conference in the capital and planned to go, Mr. Halimi said. The meeting, organized by President Hamid Karzai, aims to bring together tribal elders and community leaders to discuss ways to end the war.
Conference spokesman Gul Agha Ahmedi said Monday that the meeting, known as a “peace jirga,” would now be held on June 2 to allow the nominations for an upcoming parliamentary election to finish and to give delegates from remote districts more time to arrive. About 1,600 delegates are expected.
Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Heidi Vogt in Kabul and Nahal Toosi in Islamabad contributed to this report.