A suicide bombing at an outdoor dog fighting competition killed 80 people and wounded scores more Sunday, an Afghan governor said, in what appeared to be the deadliest terror attack in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
Officials said the attack apparently targeted a prominent militia commander who had stood up against the Taliban. He was believed to have died in the attack.
Several hundred people — including Afghan militia leaders — had gathered to watch the event on the western edge of the southern city of Kandahar. Witnesses reported gunfire from bodyguards after the blast; it was not immediately clear how many of the casualties might have been caused by bullets.
Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid said 80 people had been killed in the attack. Abdullah Fahim, a Health Ministry spokesman, said 90 were wounded.
Kandahar — the Taliban's former stronghold and Afghanistan's second largest city — is one of the country's largest opium poppy producing areas. The province has been the scene of fierce battles between NATO forces, primarily from Canada and the United States, and Taliban fighters over the last two years.
Dog fighting competitions are a popular form of entertainment around Afghanistan. The fights can attract hundreds of spectators who cram into a tight circle around the spectacle.
The blast crumpled several Afghan police trucks and left bloodstains around the barren dirt field. Afghan soldiers donated blood at Kandahar's main hospital after the attack, said Dr. Durani, who goes by only one name.
"There are too many patients here," he said. "Some of them are in very serious condition."
Wali Karzai, brother of President Hamid Karzai and the president of Kandahar's provincial council, said the target of the attack was Abdul Hakim Jan, the leader of a local militia whom Karzai said was killed in the attack.
Jan was the provincial police chief in Kandahar in the early 1990s and was the only commander in the province to stand up against the Taliban during its rule, said Khalid Pashtun, a parliamentar.
"Hakim Jan is one of the important, prominent jihadi commanders in Kandahar," Pashtun said. "There were so many people gathered and of course the Taliban and al-Qaida usually target this kind of important people."
Faizullah Qari Gar, a resident of Kandahar who was at the dog fight, said militant commanders' bodyguards opened fire on the crowd after the bombing.
"In my mind there were no Taliban to attack after the blast but the bodyguards were shooting anyway," he said.
Suicide attacks have been on the rise in Afghanistan, but rarely have they killed so many people. Militants carried out more than 140 suicide attacks in 2007, a record number.
The previous deadliest bomb attack came in November in the northern city of Baghlan, when a suicide bombing and subsequent gunfire from bodyguards killed about 70 people including six parliamentarians and 58 students and teachers. Investigators never determined how many of the deaths were caused by the blast and how many by the gunfire.