A squad of Taliban suicide bombers have killed at least 30 civilians and police in the Afghan city of Kandahar in attacks on buildings including a newly fortified prison and the police chief's compound.
Many of the dead were women and children attending a wedding celebration near the compound, said Ahmed Wali Karzai, a provincial council leader and half-brother of Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai. At least another 50 people were injured in yesterday's raids.
The first three attacks, two near the provincial council building and one outside the police headquarters, were believed to have been diversions to draw police away from the scene of the main strike, he said.
This was against Kandahar's prison, which had been reinforced by Canadian troops in 2008 after a suicide bomber blew up a truck outside, ripping apart the gates and freeing 1,000 inmates, including 400 suspected insurgents. This time, no one escaped.
Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attacks, stating on their website that they had intended to inflict heavy casualties on "enemies of the mujahideen" as a "message" to Nato commanders planning a major assault in the province later this year as a follow-up to last month's Operation Moshtarak around Marjah, in neighbouring Helmand.
Kandahar is Afghanistan's second city and the major commercial centre of the country's south. It was also the Taliban's spiritual homeland throughout the hardline regime's reign of the 1990s, and the insurgents have been exerting increasing control in the city and the surrounding province.
The US and Nato commander, General Stanley McChrystal, considers that it the insurgents' principal target, and most of 30,000 extra combat troops ordered to Afghanistan by President Barack Obama last year are expected to be deployed in Kandahar. The city is already patrolled by thousands of Canadian soldiers.
Local intelligence officers had been tipped off about an impending attack. "I knew a month ago that this might happen," said Mr Wali Karzai. "There were rumours around. They wanted to keep people busy in the city and break the prison, but the Canadians last time did a good job," he added.
"There are a lot of civilian casualties. There are houses that have collapsed, and businesses, and people are still under the rubble. There was a wedding hall near the police headquarters and there was a wedding – a lot of casualties there from the explosions."
City mayor Gulam Hamidi said he was "sending my equipment to help the police dig through the rubble". His daughter, Ragina Hamidi, added: "We can hear planes overhead and there is still firing in the distance. We are staying indoors for our own safety."Reuse content