Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Suicide Attack Strikes Once Peaceful Northern Afghanistan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Suicide Attack Strikes Once Peaceful Northern Afghanistan

Article excerpt

A senior Afghan opposition politician was among scores of people killed Tuesday by a suicide bomb attack in a previously peaceful northern province of Afghanistan.

Reports of the number of people killed or injured varied from as low as 13 to as many as 100. But because many of the victims were young children, observers say, the attack was one of the most devastating to hit Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Hamidullah Tarzi, a former finance minister, said Tuesday's attack was a clear attempt by the Taliban to show that they can operate with impunity outside Afghanistan's ethnic Pashtun belt - the extreme Sunni movement's southern heartland.

Baghlan Province had largely been spared much of the insurgent activity that has engulfed the country's southern provinces and has recently shown signs of spreading into the western regions.

"They are trying to make the government look weak and to prove that the international troops in Afghanistan are not capable of stopping this sort of operation," said Mr. Tarzi.

Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, a former Afghan commerce minister and spokesman for the United National Front, the country's largest opposition group, was the most senior of the five members of parliament who died during the attack on a sugar mill in Baghlan Province.

A deputy agriculture minister as well as prominent female parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai were among the wounded. Abdurrahman Sayedkhail, the provincial security chief, said the bomber was "carrying a massive amount of explosives" and got very close to the delegation of parliamentarians as they were being greeted by schoolchildren and local officials.

Questions surround the perpetrators

Despite the high level of certainty among government officials that the Taliban were behind the bombing, a spokesman for the Taliban denied that the jihadi group was responsible. The Taliban have targeted regional governors and members of parliament in the past, but never have so many senior officials been attacked in a single assault.

"It might have been carried out by their rivals in the parliament," said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahed. "These parliamentarians were all mujahideen in the past, and killed lots of civilians. …

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