Police set up road blocks yesterday around a southern Afghan city searching for accomplices of a suspected al-Qaeda suicide bomber who killed 20 people in one of the worst terror attacks here since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, officials said.
The attacker detonated explosives strapped to his body during the funeral Wednesday in Kandahar city of a moderate Muslim cleric who had spoken out against Taliban-led insurgents. Among the dead was the Kabul police chief and six of his bodyguards. Some 42 people were wounded.
Security forces in Kandahar set up checkpoints on all roads out of the city and were checking vehicles for anyone suspected of having links to the bomber.
"We believe others were involved in the attack and we are trying to arrest them as soon as possible," said deputy police chief Salim Khan.
Parts of the bomber's body were found and Kandahar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai said he belonged to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network. He said documents found on the body "show he was an Arab."
Sherzai also said that an intelligence report had earlier indicated that "Arab al-Qaeda teams had entered Afghanistan and had been planning terrorist attacks." He did not elaborate.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Zaher Azimi declined to comment on the report, saying "it is too early to talk about this."
President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing as an "act of cowardice by the enemies of Islam" and ordered a high-level investigation.
The body of Kabul police chief Akram Khakrezwal was taken yesterday to his home in Khakrez district, just north of Kandahar, for burial. Several top officials were expected to attend and security was tight.
The attacker detonated the explosives after coming close to the police commander, a Karzai supporter, but it was not clear if he was targeted, said Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal. Hundreds of others were in the mosque for the funeral of cleric Mullah Abdul Fayaz.
Fayaz, also a supporter of Karzai, was shot to death in Kandahar on Sunday by suspected Taliban gunmen -- a week after he led a call for people not to support the rebels. Kandahar was a stronghold of the Taliban regime that was ousted from power in late 2001 by US-led forces.
The bombing drew widespread condemnation, including from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who described it as a "heinous act of terrorism," UN associate spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The blast -- which came on the heels of a major upsurge in rebel violence in recent months including assassinations, almost daily clashes with rebels and the kidnapping of an Italian aid worker -- further raised fears that militants here are copying the tactics of insurgents in Iraq.
The rebels themselves have suffered a heavy price -- losing about 200 men according to American and Afghan officials -- but the drumbeat of attacks has belied US claims that it is stabilizing the country, nearly four years after driving the Taliban from power.