Afghans commemorated the fifth anniversary of the assassination of anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massood yesterday under the shadow of the deadliest suicide bombing in Kabul since the overthrow of the hardline Islamic regime.
Afghan soldiers searched cars and set up checkpoints on roads leading into the city, a day after a suicide bomber rammed into a US military convoy near the US embassy, killing 16 people, including two US soldiers.
It was part of the worst spate of violence in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban. Yesterday, NATO and Afghan forces killed more than 30 suspected Taliban militants and destroyed several insurgent compounds during a major offensive in southern Afghanistan, NATO said.
Attacks have been increasing in Kabul but remain rare compared to the country's south. Friday's blast revealed the continuing vulnerability of foreign troops, local forces and Afghan civilians to terrorist attacks almost five years after a pro-American government was installed.
Thousands of people including President Hamid Karzai yesterday attended a memorial ceremony at the national stadium in Kabul marking the assassination of mujahedeen leader Massood, who was killed in an al-Qaeda suicide bombing in northern Afghanistan two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US.
"Massood was a great martyr for this land and like him, today, each son of this country is ready to sacrifice his life to make the nation free," Karzai said. "We are still not free and our nation's children are still being sacrificed like yesterday in Kabul when more people were martyred in a terrorist attack."
Massood was the most famous mujahedeen commander against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s, and later led the resistance to the Taliban after they seized power in 1996.
Ali Shah Paktiawal, criminal director of the Kabul police, said he did not think Friday's bombing was timed to coincide with the Massood commemoration, saying terrorists used any opportunity to attack foreign forces. He said police were investigating, but have made no arrests.
The US military blamed "Taliban extremists" for the blast, which occurred 50m from the landmark Massood Square that leads to the main gate of the heavily fortified US embassy compound. The blast tore a 2m-wide crater in the road, shattered windows and left body parts and wreckage scattered over a wide area.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the bombing.
Such attacks reflect "an inexcusable disregard for the value of human life and only serve to undermine the country's transition," Annan's spokesman quoted him as saying in New York.
A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the bombing, according to the privately run Pajh-wok Afghan News Agency. Qari Yousaf Ahmadi claimed only US and Afghan soldiers were killed in the attack, the agency said.