One of the most senior and heavily guarded security officials in Afghanistan was killed yesterday in a suicide bombing. The blast at a mosque near Laghman east of the Afghan capital Kabul, also killed 23 others including women and children and injured 36 others.
The target of the lone bomber was a group of VIPs who had gathered at the entrance of the mosque in Laghman. In what will be seen as a major propaganda coup for the Taliban, the blast claimed the life of Abdullah Laghmani, the highly influential deputy head of Afghanistan's intelligence service.
The attack by insurgents shattered a period of relative quiet period following the national elections. But it came at a highly volatile time with continuing bitter recriminations and rising ethnic tension over fraud and disputed results.
What brought particular resonance to the assassination is the fact that Mr Laghmani is a Pashtun in the Tajik dominated National Directorate of Security (NDS), a body which has taken a leading, and sometimes controversial role, in the fight against the Taliban. The deputy chief was seen as someone who thus had the advantage in gathering information on the Pashtun insurgency.
President Hamid Karzai, who is said to have built up a close working relationship with the murdered official said in a message of condolence. "By conducting such a vicious act and killing of religious scholars and innocents, the terrorists showed that they trample Islamic values on the orders of their masters and can go to any extent in committing a crime."
A fleet of ambulances and commandeered pick up trucks took the wounded from Mehtar Lam, where the blast took place, to the nearest major city, Jalalabad, for emergency surgery. Lutfullah Mashal, the governor of Laghman province, who narrowly escaped injury described the moments of the attack. "We were all getting into our cars just outside the mosque when a man came running out of a shop and then there was a big explosion. A lot of people died. Abdullah Laghmani's car was destroyed. I lost two of my important officials. It is obviously the Taliban who are trying to destabilise Afghanistan and they are trampling on Islamic values."
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said they had dispatched the suicide bomber and declared that other such acts would follow and its campaign against the election, which the Islamist group had instructed people to boycott, would continue.
Mr Laghmani had become a focus of insurgent hatred because of his role in the National Directorate of Security which grew out of the security apparatus of the Tajik and Uzbek-led Northern Alliance against the Pashtun Taliban during the civil war.
However, in the febrile current atmosphere rumours were circulating that Mr Laghmani had been eliminated by Tajik factions within the NDS for a variety of conspiratorial reasons, some of them election related. With around 60 per cent of the votes counted, Mr Karzai, who is Pashtun, has just over 47.3 per cent edging him closer to 50 per cent which would give him outright victory in the first ballot. Abdullah Abdullah, who is of Tajik and Pashtun descent but is seen as a Tajik candidate and had fought in the ranks of the Northern Alliance, holds 32.6 per cent.
In Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, Zalmai Younosi, Dr Abdullah's campaign chief in six provinces in the region, forecast street disturbances if Mr Karzai was seen to be "stealing" the election. He said: "We are not talking too much because people are very angry and we don't want to add to that, but Dr Abdullah is meeting with foreign embassies and regional partners to try to find a solution. After that, if there is no result, then it is protest and violence. When Russia occupied Afghanistan, we had to fight. When the Taliban came we had to fight back. How can we accept a corrupt government funded by drugs and not respected by the world?"
The Electoral Complaints Commission stated yesterday that it was investigating 2,187 complaints of irregularities.