A suicide bomber hiding explosives in his turban assassinated the mayor of Kandahar yesterday, just two weeks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s powerful half brother was slain in the southern province that is critical to the US-led war effort.
Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi, 65, was the third powerbroker from southern Afghanistan to be killed in just more than two weeks, underlining fears of a surge in violence in the wake of the slaying of the president’s half brother. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for all three attacks, yet the area is rife with tribal rivalries and criminals and it is not yet certain who is behind the trio of killings.
Ahmed Wali Karzai was gunned down in his home in Kandahar by a close associate on July 12, leaving a power vacuum in Kandahar and dealing a blow to the strength of the president’s support, as well as the stability of the south where the Taliban hold the most sway.
Five days later, Karzai’s inner circle suffered another hit when gunmen killed Jan Mohammad Khan, an adviser to the president on tribal issues and a former governor of Uruzgan Province, also in southern Afghanistan. A member of parliament was also killed in the July 17 attack at Khan’s home in Kabul.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told reporters that they killed the Kandahar mayor because he had ordered the destruction of homes that city officials claimed had been illegally constructed. Ahmadi said the mayor was killed to avenge the deaths of two children who were killed during the demolition work.
Kandahar Governor Tooryalai Wesa said the two children were accidentally killed by a bulldozer knocking down the homes.
During his four years as mayor, Hamidi became the enemy of the Taliban, as well as others involved in criminal activities.
The mayor’s son-in-law, Abdullah Khan, said Hamidi had launched a campaign against warlords and criminals and was particularly harsh on people who took illegal control of property. Just two days before the killing, he said his father-in-law had ordered several large homes torn down because they had been built illegally.
“I don’t know who did this,” Khan said by telephone. “From day one I was afraid. Even I wanted to put pressure on him to leave.”
“It is up to the police to investigate, but we don’t really have police that can do a good investigation,” Khan said.
New US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker and General John Allen, the new commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, condemned the assassination.
Crocker told reporters at the US embassy in Kabul that the assassination was indicative of the challenges ahead in Afghanistan.
“Assassinations are horrific acts — they are acts of terror and can have major impacts,” he said. “But I don’t think you can chart a straight line that says that three assassinations guarantee a total unraveling either of international support or Afghan confidence. It could very well go the other way.”
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