A suicide car bomber struck a heavily guarded neighborhood yesterday near the home of a former Afghan vice president and a hotel favored by Westerners, killing at least eight people and wounding dozens, officials said.
The Interior Ministry said the target of the bombing was unclear, but security officials at the scene said the bomber was going after the home of former first vice president, Ahmad Zia Massoud. He is the brother of legendary anti-Taliban hero, Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed by al-Qaeda two days before the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“Of course we were the target,” said Shah Asmat, an aide to the former vice president. “Before, the Taliban killed Massoud. Now, they tried to kill his brother.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, during a speech he was delivering at a conference on corruption, said two of Massoud’s guards were among those killed in the explosion.
In a statement released later, Karzai strongly condemned the terrorist attack. He instructed government officials to thoroughly investigate the incident and identify those responsible.
“This terrorist attack, which killed and wounded innocent civilians, was an attack on humanity and Islam,” Karzai’s statement said.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Zemeri Bashary said four men and four women died in the midmorning blast. He said about 40 others were wounded.
The midmorning blast, in the congested Wazir Akbar Khan district, slightly damaged the Heetal Hotel, which is owned by the son of Burhanuddin Rabbani, who served as president of Afghanistan from 1992 until 1996.
An Afghan intelligence official in charge of security for the hotel said he did not think the Heetal was the target because the blast occurred about 30m from the entrance.
The official declined to be named because he was not authorized to provide information about the blast. The official, who suffered cuts to his face, was standing in the front of the hotel when the explosion occurred.
Three homes, including the former vice president’s, were severely damaged and windows in nearby buildings were shattered.
A large cloud of dark gray smoke rose from the area as firefighters worked to extinguish flames from the burning vehicle.
A witness at the scene, a 22-year-old English student at Kabul University, reported seeing a black, four-wheel drive vehicle near the hotel.
“It drove very slowly to the checkpoint,” Hamayun Azizi said. “And then it blew up.”
The explosion flipped the vehicle, which landed upside down about 10m from the blast site, a witness said.
The explosion was heard a few kilometers away by about 200 people, who had gathered at the Foreign Ministry for a three-day conference on corruption in the Afghan government. Those at the conference paused for a moment after the blast. After a delay, the event began with Karzai’s speech, in which he called for large-scale reform to stamp out the bribery and graft that permeate ministries and state offices.
Karzai has been under pressure to clean up his government following this year’s fraud-tainted election on Aug. 20.
“I know corruption exists in the government and elsewhere. Let’s be realistic. Let’s acknowledge the problem first,” Karzai said.
About 400 conference attendees — mostly ministers, lawmakers and diplomats — were expected to hash out issues such as hiring practices and judicial system problems over the next few days.
Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal said Karzai sent a clear message to officials to clean up their ministries.
“The government first needs to clean itself up, then it can go after all the corruption in agencies outside the government” he said.
But many are skeptical after seeing two anti-corruption bodies founder. The first was disbanded after it became known that its head had been imprisoned on drug charges in the US. The second was launched last year but often does not have the authority to push prosecutions through.
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