A suicide bomber blew himself up Saturday in a wedding hall in northern Afghanistan, killing more than 20 people including a well-known commander in an attack that deals a setback to efforts to unify the nation’s ethnic factions, Afghan officials said.
Ahmad Khan Samangani, an ethnic Uzbek who is also a member of parliament, was welcoming guests to his daughter's wedding when the explosion occurred in Aybak, the capital of Samangan province.
The attacker embraced MP Ahmad Khan, a former militia commander, in front of wedding guests before detonating the explosives strapped around his waist, a security forces spokesman said.
The head of local intelligence was also among the dead after the attack on the party in Aybak, the capital of normally peaceful Samangan province, which was attended by other high-ranking government officials.
An ethnic Uzbek, Khan had served as a commander during the decades of conflict in Afghanistan.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Zabiullah Mujahid, a purported Taliban spokesman, told AFP that he was “unaware” of an attack by the militant group in northern Afghanistan.
More than 13 bodies had been brought to the central hospital in Samangan, as well as 60 wounded people, hospital head doctor Mansor Fayez told AFP.
“The dead include MP Ahmad Khan and the head of intelligence of Samangan,” he said.
The security force spokesman, Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, put the toll higher.
“So far we have 22 people, including Ahmad Khan killed, and more than 100 others wounded,” he said.
The attack in Samangan bears the hallmark of an emboldened Taliban insurgency spreading to the north from the south and east, where they traditionally hold sway.
Northern Afghanistan is relatively peaceful but suffers sporadic violence. In April, a suicide attack in Faryab province killed 12 people, mostly civilians.
Last year, a Taliban suicide attack killed General Daud Daud, a regional police commander and once Afghanistan’s most powerful anti-drug czar, in Taloqan, the capital of northern Takhar province.
The wedding attack was the latest on a politician. “An Afghan women’s affairs official was killed Friday when a bomb attached to her vehicle exploded, in an attack that also critically wounded her husband and daughter”, police said.
Hanifa Safi, Laghman provincial women’s affairs director was killed when a magnetic bomb was attached to her vehicle.
Laghman provincial government spokesman Sarhadi Zwak blamed Taliban insurgents for the attack.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blast. But in announcing their spring offensive on May 2, the Taliban said they would continue to target those who back the Karzai government and the U.S.-led international military coalition. There is also a long history of conflict between the Taliban - who come mostly from the country’s biggest group, the Pashtuns - and members of ethnic minorities.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai needs the minority groups - loosely known as the Northern Alliance - to back his efforts to reconcile with the Taliban. But minorities already worry that Karzai, a Pashtun, will make too many concessions to their Taliban enemies to achieve a peace deal to end the war. Whatever support for peace talks that Karzai has won from minority groups is likely to erode if militants continue to pick off their leaders one by one.
The Taliban have waged a bloody insurgency since their ouster from power following a U.S.-led invasion shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Attacks by the Taliban kill hundreds of civilians every year, but many Afghans worry that security will worsen after 2014, or even that civil war could reignite, when international troops pull out.
There are currently around 130,000 international troops in Afghanistan and all NATO-led combat forces are due to leave by the end of 2014.