Afghanistan says Taliban behind failed bomb attack


Sun, Jan 23, 2005 - Page 5

Afghan authorities launched an investigation on Friday into a failed suicide bomb attack on warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam, with suspicion falling strongly on the ousted Taliban regime.

Dostam, who helped the US topple the Islamists in 2001 and stood in last October's presidential polls, survived the blast during prayers for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in the northern city of Sheberghan on Thursday.

At least 21 people were injured, including the ethnic Uzbek strongman's brother, when a bomber wearing explosives under his clothes blew himself up outside a mosque.

"A four-man delegation left Kabul on Thursday night to Sheberghan to assess the blast," Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said.

"We have seen that the Taliban have claimed responsibility, but right now we don't know who might have been behind the attack -- the delegation is going to find out that," he said.

Unconfirmed reports have said the Taliban were involved. The fundamentalist movement is known to blame Dostam for massacring some of its troops after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan three years ago.

The burly warlord also battled with the Taliban for control of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1997, in a brutal campaign of bloody attacks on retreating soldiers.

Dostam -- a nickname meaning everyone's friend -- has also earned enemies amongst other regional militia commanders by repeatedly switching sides during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and civil war in the 1990s.

However, a senior government official dismissed the possibility that the attack could have been engineered by local factions loyal to General Mohammed Atta -- a longtime rival of Dostam's.

The Interior Ministry's Mashal added that the situation around Dostam's stronghold in Sheberghan was calm.