KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to an Afghan government office Monday, killing at least 30 people — many who were waiting in line to obtain government identification cards, police said.
The attack occurred around noon in Imam Sahib district of Kunduz province in northern Afghanistan where there has been a sharp slide in security in recent months, said district police chief Abdul Qayum Ebrahimi. At least 40 people were wounded in the blast, he said.
“We were in a meeting. It was a very powerful explosion,” said Ebrahimi, who works in the district police office next door to the blast site. “People had gathered in the front of the department to get identification cards.”
He said the explosion occurred in the district centre on a day when people gather to shop.
“They become the target of the terror today,” he said.
Violence has been on the rise in the north, where there are known hide-outs for the Taliban, al-Qaida and fighters from other militant factions, including the Haqqani network, Hizb-i-Islami and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. NATO has sent more troops to the north and has been pushing harder into militant-held areas.
In October, a bomb killed Kunduz Gov. Mohammad Omar and 19 others in a crowded mosque in neighbouring Takhar province. Omar was killed just days after he warned of escalating threats from Taliban and foreign fighters in the north.
Also on Monday, a NATO service member was killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. The coalition did not provide the service member’s nationality or disclose details about his death, which brings to 55 the number of international troops killed in Afghanistan so far this year.
Separately, the NATO coalition said it was investigating the accidental death of Afghan civilians in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistan border. NATO said it deeply regretted the accident Sunday night in Khogyani district.
Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar, said coalition forces fired at three insurgents planting a roadside mine near a NATO base. One weapon missed the target, hit a house and killed a couple and their four children, he said.
“My four grandsons, my daughter-in-law and my son were martyred here,” Mehrab Khan, 55, said at their funeral Monday.
The incident came a day after Afghan officials alleged that 64 civilians died in coalition operations in neighbouring Kunar province, a hotbed of the insurgency.
NATO said it had no evidence of civilian casualties, but is working with Afghan officials to investigate recent operations in Kunar.
“The evidence viewed to date has revealed no evidence of children present at all on the night of the Feb. 17 and the adults were assessed to be men,” Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a NATO spokesman, told reporters in Kabul. “They were armed and moving in tactical formations.”
Also on Monday, Fazel Ahmad Manawi, chairman of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, said the recent suspension of two high-ranking election officials and government interference in last year’s parliamentary election was “completely illegal.”
The comment was part of an ongoing dispute over a special tribunal — backed by President Hamid Karzai — that is investigating allegations of election fraud. While Karzai hasn’t said so publicly, it is widely believed that the president is unhappy with the slate of winning candidates and thinks fraud reduced voter turnout among his fellow ethnic Pashtuns.
Last week, armed Afghan security forces, prosecutors and representatives of the special court forced their way into the election commission and sealed a vote-counting centre and a warehouse full of ballots.
Over the weekend, the Afghan attorney general’s office sent a letter to the election commission ordering Abdullah Ahmadzai, the commission’s chief electoral officer, and Qazi Suliman Hamed, a member of the commission, suspended from their jobs. The attorney general’s office said Monday that the two were suspended at the request of the special court for trying to prevent court officials from reviewing ballot boxes.
“I have not done anything illegal,” Ahmadzai said. “We are both presidential appointees and the attorney general, being part of the government, is not legally authorized to make any decision on a presidential or political appointee.”
Ahmadzai said the commission has certified the election results, the parliamentarians have been seated and neither the special court or the attorney general’s office has the legal authority to order a recount.