Helmand governor escapes blast as he battles for job

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The Independent Online

The Governor of Helmand, a key British ally, narrowly escaped death yesterday when a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing eight people and injuring seven others after infiltrating into his headquarters.

An hour and half after the attempt on his life Mohammed Daud told The Independent how he was targeted for assassination as he was preparing to meet Hamid Karzai and press the Afghan president to be allowed to remain in his post.

Mr Daud had been told that he would be removed as governor of Helmand, the centre of British presence in Afghanistan, in what has been seen as a successful coup carried out by an influential cabal of warlords and alleged drug traffickers.

British officials, on whose request Mr Daud was appointed to his post, are deeply unhappy about his removal which took place despite lobbying on the governor’s behalf by Tony Blair during a recent trip to Kabul.

Speaking from his devastated office, Mr Daud said: "I was preparing to go and meet President Karzai in Kandahar. I do not know how many people knew about it, but I do not think it was a big secret.

"I had just phoned down to ask if the cars were ready when my bodyguards noticed a man they knew actually inside the compound. He was trying to make his way up the stairs to my office. Two of them challenged him and when they tried to get hold on him the man blew himself up. My two guards were killed and also three policemen died. The other three were civilians. The door and windows of my office have been destroyed, but I am alright. But we have yet more innocent people being killed.

Mr Daud said he did not know who was responsible for the attack, which was not the first attempt on his life. "It could be al-Qa’ida or it could be someone else. Being the governor of Helmand is not a very safe job. But as you know I was prepared to carry on and finish the job."

Along with Mr Daud, his deputy, Mullah Amir Akhunzada has also been dismissed. Mr Akhunzada is suspected of being involved in drug dealing and assorted other criminality, and British authorities had refused to work him. He is said to be deeply angered by his sacking.

Mr Daud and Mr Akhunzada are due to be replaced, respectively, it is believed, by Asidullah Wafa and Pir Mohammed, two serving officials in President Karzai’s government.

More than a dozen people were killed in a previous attack by a suicide bomber on Mr Daud’s headquarters. At the time the Taliban claimed responsibility. Qari Yousef Ahmadi, who claims to be a Taliban spokesman, yesterday said the organisation had also carried out the new attack. He said the bomber was an Afghan by the name of Mullah Famiullah.

Meanwhile in Khost, eastern Afghanistan, four alleged insurgents and a teenage girl were killed, and another girl, aged eight was wounded in a raid by American and Afghan government forces. The US military said the suspects opened fire after a house they were living in, at a village, was surrounded.

The military said in its statement that "credible information" indicated the compound was a refuge for militants. It added that the events surrounding the civilian casualties were being investigated as a matter of course.