May 23, 2013
Suicide bomb kills at least 20 in northern Afghanistan
The attack occurred while prayers were being read at the funeral of an influential tribal leader. All victims were civilians.
"People were gathering for a funeral when a suicide bomber detonated himself," Mahmod al-Hussain, a senior police detective for the northern Takhar province, told Reuters.
The once-peaceful northern Takhar province has seen a series of high profile attacks and assassinations over the last year, including the killing of a top police commander in May.
Al-Hussain said a member of parliament, Mutalib Bik, was among the dead and is seen to be the primary target as the attacker came close to him before setting off the bomb.
Bik was a former anti-Taliban commander and a former provincial police chief.
Takhar does not have any major permanent base for foreign troops. German troops supervise the area from a base in neighbouring Kunduz province.
The attack may further complicate NATO efforts to prepare for the start of a security handover from foreign forces to Afghan soldiers and police in some parts of north Afghanistan.
"This reprehensible attack on a funeral further illustrates that the Taliban and other insurgents are waging a murderous campaign against innocent Afghan civilians, including women and children," the US embassy said in a statement.
Witnesses said the attacker was around 30 years old and dressed in traditional clothing for the region.
President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the attack.
"This attack once again shows the malicious and un-Islamic intentions of the terrorists, who don't even want Muslims in Afghanistan to hold religious ceremonies in a peaceful environment," he said in a statement.
Officials gave conflicting figures for the casualties.
While local police said the death toll was at least 20, Karzai's office put the number at 10. The interior ministry said 19 were killed and 40 wounded.
Hundreds of men and women were standing outside the hospital in Taloqan, waiting to hear about their family members as people were being brought in on stretchers into the facility.
"Everybody was running when I heard my brother yelling for help," said Hubaidullah, a witness, recalling the explosion.
The hardline Islamist Taliban so far declined to comment on the attack.
Despite the presence of tens of thousands of Western forces in Afghanistan, the United Nations and other groups say violence is at its worst since US-led Afghan forces toppled the Taliban from power in late 2001.