Suicide bomb kills 20 in Afghanistan


A suicide bomber killed at least 20 people and wounded 50 in Afghanistan's northern city of Taliqan today, police said, in the latest in a series of attacks in a once-peaceful region.

The attack occurred while prayers were being read at the funeral of an influential tribal leader. All victims were civilians.

"People were gathering for a funeral when a suicide bomber detonated himself," Mahmod al-Hussain, a senior police detective for the northern Takhar province, said.

The once-peaceful northern Takhar province has seen a series of high profile attacks and assassinations over the last year, including the killing of a top police commander in May.

Mr Al-Hussain said a member of parliament, Mutalib Bik, was among the dead and is seen to be the primary target as the attacker came close to him before setting off the bomb.

Mr Bik was a former anti-Taliban commander and a former provincial police chief. Takhar does not have any major permanent base for foreign troops. German troops supervise the area from a base in neighbouring Kunduz province.

The attack may further complicate Nato efforts to prepare for the start of a security handover from foreign forces to Afghan soldiers and police in some parts of north Afghanistan.

"This reprehensible attack on a funeral further illustrates that the Taliban and other insurgents are waging a murderous campaign against innocent Afghan civilians, including women and children," the US embassy said in a statement.

Witnesses said the attacker was around 30 years old and dressed in traditional clothing for the region president Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the attack.

"This attack once again shows the malicious and un-Islamic intentions of the terrorists, who don't even want Muslims in Afghanistan to hold religious ceremonies in a peaceful environment," he said in a statement.

Officials gave conflicting figures for the casualties.

While local police said the death toll was at least 20, Mr Karzai's office put the number at 10. The interior ministry said 19 were killed and 40 wounded.

Meanwhile, security forces in Afghanistan have killed 30 suspected insurgents in a series of clashes around the country.

The army, police and Nato troops have launched 11 operations in the past 24 hours across Afghanistan. Seven insurgents were arrested.

The insurgents who were killed were armed and weapons were recovered in the operations.

Nato said one of its helicopters crashlanded in Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand province in a separate incident today after taking small-arms fire from the ground. There were no injuries among the crew.

Nato relies on helicopters to avoid using roads that are frequently mined by the insurgents.