KABUL // A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a mosque in northern Afghanistan yesterday, killing at least 42 people and wounding dozens, officials said.
It was the worst death toll in a single attack in Afghanistan since 80 died on December 6 last year in a suicide blast at a shrine in Kabul on the Shiite holy day of Ashura.
The attack in the town of Maymana, capital of northern Faryab province, came as people were gathering at the mosque to celebrate Eid Al Adha.
The attacker was wearing a police uniform when he blew himself up at the entrance to the city's packed Eid Gah mosque, deputy provincial governor Abdul Satar Barez said.
"We have 42 dead, more than 20 are security forces and the rest of them are civilians, including five or six children," he said.
"Around 51 are wounded, some 15 of them critically injured."
Top provincial officials, including the governor and the police chief, were inside the building when the bomber set off his explosives outside, where a large crowd had gathered, Mr Barez said. The officials were not hurt, but most of the dead were police officers and soldiers.
"There was blood and dead bodies everywhere," said Khaled, a doctor who was in the mosque at the time of the blast. "It was a massacre."
Video from the scene showed the bodies of several soldiers and policemen lying next to their vehicles parked on a tree-lined avenue of the city, located about 500 kilometres north-west of Kabul. On the pavement, a number of civilians lay along the mosque's outer wall, some writhing and moaning in pain.
It appeared to be the deadliest suicide attack in recent months.
Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, strongly condemned the attack, saying that those who carried it out were "enemies of Islam and humanity".
The attack came as Mr Karzai was urging Taliban insurgents "to stop killing other Afghans".
In his Eid Al Adha message to the nation yesterday morning, Mr Karzai called on the insurgents to "stop the destruction of our mosques, hospitals and schools".
The United Nations says that Taliban attacks account for the vast majority of civilian casualties in the 11-year war. The insurgents routinely deny that they are responsible for attacks on civilians, saying they target only foreign troops or members of the Afghan security forces.
On Wednesday, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar urged his fighters to "pay full attention to the prevention of civilian casualties", saying the enemy was trying to blame them on the insurgents.
Northern Afghanistan is relatively peaceful, with the Taliban, concentrating their operations in the south and east of the country.
But they have recently stepped up their activities in the north, despite the presence of more than 100,000 Nato troops in the country.
Also yesterday, the Taliban claimed responsibility for killing two American service members in southern Uruzgan province, in what may have been the latest insider attack against Western troops.
It was the second suspected insider attack in two days. On Wednesday, two British troops and an Afghan policeman were shot dead in Helmand province.
Before Thursday's assault, 53 foreigners attached to the US-led coalition had been killed in attacks by Afghan soldiers or police this year.
* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse