A suicide bomb ripped through a wedding party in full swing in the Taliban's heartland in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens more, officials said today.
The blast occurred late yesterday in a housing compound where men had gathered during the festivities, with female guests at a different house that was not hit, one witness said. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said children were among the dead and wounded.
The family that was attacked included a number of Afghan police officers. The groom's brother and two of his cousins were in the police force, according to another cousin, Mohammad Alkozay. The groom survived the attack, but was injured.
It occurred in Nadahan village in the Argandab district of Kandahar province, considered the spiritual home of the Taliban, and the focus of an upcoming US military operation.
Bashary said the explosion hit the wedding party about 9 p.m., and that it was a suicide attack. He said at least 40 people were killed and 74 were wounded in the blast. The bride and groom survived.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi denied the group carried out the attack.
US military spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said the deaths were not the result of an airstrike, and said any suggestion otherwise was "Taliban misinformation."
NATO said in a statement that no service members from the alliance were involved in the incident.
Agha Mohammed, who survived the blast, said the guests were all seated and having a meal when the explosion occurred, sending a huge fireball and smoke into the sky.
He said the scale of the destruction caused by the blast was more than was common in a suicide attack.
"We have experience with war and this does not look like a suicide bombing," Mohammed said.
At a news conference in Kandahar city, provincial Gov. Tooryalai Wesa held up a chunk of metal he said was from the site and described it as a piece of equipment usually used in suicide bombs.
He rejected the Taliban's denial of involvement in the attack.
"The Taliban are doing two things at once," Wesa said. "On one side they target people who are in favor of the government, then at the same time they don't want people to know their real face."
NATO condemned the attack and said it would help Afghan police investigate the cause.
"This ruthless violence brought to the Afghan people at what should have been a time for celebration demonstrates the Taliban's sickening and indiscriminate tactics to try to intimidate the citizens of Afghanistan," said Lt. Gen. Nick Parker, the deputy commander of NATO forces, in the statement.
President Hamid Karzai's office condemned the attack in a statement and called for a thorough investigation.
Nadahan is a farming community on the northern border of Kandahar city. The surrounding district is a major route for insurgents to enter into the city — the commercial hub of the south. NATO forces have been battling insurgents in Argandab for months in an attempt to gain control of the area and it is expected to be a focus of a summer push to squeeze the Taliban out of the area.
Insurgents have often targeted civilian government officials and police in areas under their control and use violence on civilians to intimidate them. On Wednesday, the Taliban hanged a seven-year-old boy in public in Helmand province, neighboring Kandahar, for alleged spying, a local official said.
And in Spin Boldak district, insurgents dragged a local council member, Amir Mohammad Noorzai, from his house on Wednesday evening and shot him to death, said Zalmai Ayoubi, a Kandahar provincial government spokesman.
Violence has spiked in Afghanistan this month, with the Taliban stepping up attacks as US commanders gear up for a major operation to clear Kandahar that Washington hopes will be a turning point in the nearly nine-year-old insurgency.
At least 17 US service members have been killed in the past four days, including the four Americans who died Wednesday when insurgents in southern Helmand province's Sangin district — one of the most volatile in the country — shot down a Nato helicopter.
A total of 29 NATO troops have been killed this month, including 10 on Monday alone — seven of them Americans. It was the deadliest day for the military alliance in seven months.Reuse content