x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

‘The bomber used a three-wheeler packed with explosives’

Violence in Afghanistan is on the rise ahead of presidential elections schedule for April 5.

Afghan security officials inspect the scene of a suicide bomb attack in Maimanah, Faryab province, Afghanistan on March 18. EPA
Afghan security officials inspect the scene of a suicide bomb attack in Maimanah, Faryab province, Afghanistan on March 18. EPA

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan // A suicide bomber killed at least 15 people at a crowded market in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday, officials said, as security is ramped up ahead of presidential elections.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in Maimanah city, the capital of Faryab, a remote province that borders Turkmenistan and has a mixed population of Uzbek, Turkmen and Pashtun ethnic groups.

A week ago, Taliban insurgent leaders vowed to target the presidential election, urging its fighters to attack polling staff, voters and security forces before the April 5 vote to choose a successor to Hamid Karzai.

“It was a suicide bombing in the middle of Maimanah city during the Tuesday bazaar,” said Mohammadullah Batash, the Faryab province governor.

“The blast happened on the main roundabout, which was very crowded. The bomber used a three-wheeler packed with explosives. All 15 of the dead are civilians or street vendors, and at least 27 are also wounded.”

Toryalai Adyan, the provincial police chief, and hospital officials gave a similar account and death toll.

Northern Afghanistan is generally more peaceful than the south and east of the country, but Islamist insurgents, rival militias and criminal gangs are active in some districts.

Six Afghan employees of the aid group ACTED working on rural development projects were shot dead in Faryab in December by suspected Taliban gunmen.

The United Nations envoy to Kabul warned on Monday that election-related violence was on the rise in Afghanistan, where foreign combat troops are withdrawing from the country after 13 years of fighting a fierce Islamist insurgency.

“Security will have a major impact on these polls,” Jan Kubis said in an address to the Security Council in New York, adding he was “gravely disturbed” by the Taliban threat to unleash “a campaign of terror”.

Previous Afghan elections have been badly marred by violence, with at least 31 civilians and 26 soldiers and police killed on polling day alone in 2009, as the Islamist militants displayed their opposition to the US-backed polls.

Another bloodstained election would damage claims by international donors that the expensive military and civilian intervention in Afghanistan since 2001 has made progress in establishing a functioning state system.

President Karzai, who is barred from serving a third term in office, has consistently said Afghanistan will hold a safe and clean election, despite previous violence and allegations of massive fraud when he won the last poll five years ago.

“We should try our best for a transparent, free and secure election,” he told parliament on Saturday.

Among the election front-runners are Abdullah Abdullah, who came second in 2009, former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani.

The next president will face a testing new era as the Afghan army and police fight the Taliban without the assistance of 53,000 Nato combat troops.

The campaign has been relatively peaceful so far, though gunmen shot dead two of Mr Abdullah’s aides in the western city of Herat.

* Agence France-Presse