Conflict & Justice

Suicide bomber kills leading cleric in Afghanistan during Karzai's mourning ceremony


Mourners prayed over the grave of Ahmad Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, during a funeral in Kandahar province on July 13, 2011. At a mourning ceremony for Karzai the following day, a suicide bomber killed Kandahar's supreme government religious authority and at least two other people.


Mamoon Durrani

A suicide bomber has killed a leading cleric in Afghanistan during a mourning ceremony for President Hamid Karzai's slain half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai.

The explosives, hidden in his turban, were detonated about 12.15pm on Thursday, ripping through the historic Red Mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan, killing Maulavi Hekmatullah Hekmat, and at least two others, The Wall Street Journal's Asia edition says.

The mosque was filled with tribal leaders and government officials mourning Ahmed Wali Karzai, the provincial council chief who was assassinated on Tuesday by his own guard. Some 13 people inside the mosque were injured by the explosion, said Sediq Seddiqi, the Interior Ministry spokesman.

A chaotic scene ensued after the explosion, with hundreds of people rushing to the mosque to help pull bodies from the flames that engulfed it, The Wall Street Journal reports.

It was unclear if the Taliban orchestrated the attack.

Taliban spokesmen couldn't immediately be reached for comment, The Wall Street Journal says.

"I saw a young man with white clothes, the only one standing in the mosque. Suddenly a huge explosion happened and I was thrown to the wall. Next thing I remember, I was being dragged out of the mosque," said Sangar, a resident of Kandahar.

Central government officials were quickly evacuated from the southern city and were leaving to board a flight to Kabul thirty minutes after the blast, said President Karzai's legal adviser, Nasrullah Stanekzai, who was in Kandahar for the ceremonies.

President Karzai was in Kabul at the time of the blast, and his brother Shah Wali Karzai, appointed on Wednesday to succeed Ahmed Wali as head of the Popolzai tribe, was unhurt, said presidential spokesman Waheed Omer.

Afghanistan's intelligence service said in a statement that they arrested four insurgents who were plotting terrorist attacks to be carried out on Thursday morning targeting government officials in Kandahar. It was unclear whether the suicide bomber that attacked the mosque was part of the plot but had evaded arrest.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, Voice of America reports.

The attack comes a day after Karzai led thousands of mourners at the funeral of Ahmad Wali Karzai. The man, who had shot him dead has been identified as Sardar Mohammad. He was then killed by other guards.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination.

Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban and violence has increased as international troops work to clear the south of insurgents.