Eight die in Kabul suicide attack

A devastating suicide bomb tore through Kabul's diplomatic quarter yesterday, killing eight people and injuring dozens of others in what appeared to be an assassination attempt on a former vice-president in Hamid Karzai's government.

The attack, close to the British embassy and other legations as well as a hotel popular with foreigners, once again showed the ability of insurgents to strike at will in the heavily guarded heart of the Afghan capital.

The bomber detonated his black four-wheel-drive vehicle just as Ahmad Zia Massoud was leaving his fortified compound, flipping the car on to its roof. He escaped, but his secretary and one of his bodyguards were among those killed in the blast.

Mr Massoud is the brother of the legendary guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed by al-Qa'ida assassins shortly before the attacks on the World Trade Centre in September 2001.

The explosion was metres from his house and the Heetal Hotel, whose $250-a-night suites are popular among Westerners. None of the guests were injured and the hotel was not thought to be the target.

It was the latest in a series of attacks in the capital blamed on the Taliban, although uncharacteristically the militants have yet to claim or deny responsibility for this bombing. Six weeks ago a suicide squad stormed a guesthouse killing five UN workers over the course of a two-hour siege that prompted the organisation to scale back its operations in Afghanistan.

Across town President Hamid Karzai, who was giving a keynote speech on corruption, condemned the "terrorist attack" as "an attack on humanity and Islam" and ordered security forces to track down those who had planned it.

At the same event the President also addressed the hot topic of corruption – but did little to assuage Western fears about his commitment to rooting it out. He insisted that the Mayor of Kabul, Abdul Ahad Sayebi, the the most senior Afghan official to be convicted of corruption, was innocent. "One very serious caution I want to say," Mr Karzai told his audience. "I know the Mayor. He is a clean person. I know him."

He went on to warn against excessive zeal in pursuing corruption cases and said that those under investigation could be victimised. Anybody in authority, he pointed out, "can go to someone's house, knock on the door and drag a man out of that house and terrorise him... This is the main form of corruption."