James McCarten & A. R. Khan / Canadian Press – 2007-05-19 23:10:25
Photo caption: Emergency crews doused flaming wreckage at the scene of two back-to-back bombings that killed seven people, including three Afghan police officers, in Kandahar City, Afghanistan Thursday, May 17, 2007. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the coordinated attack, calculated to maximize victims by attracting police and emergency workers to the scene before a second bomb was detonated.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (May 17, 2007) — Merchants shuttered their shops early and residents disappeared behind closed doors Thursday as a string of deadly bombings cast a shadow of terror over a city haunted by the fearsome, tyrannical legacy of a slain Taliban commander.
Less than a week ago, Kandahar locals were celebrating the death of Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban’s most senior military leader and a prominent architect of some of Afghanistan’s most violent bloodshed, including videotaped beheadings, suicide bombings and targeted assassinations.
On Thursday, however, the Taliban — embittered by Dadullah’s death, but especially angry that his body was paraded before the media and then buried unceremoniously rather than returned to his family — sought to extract a measure of revenge.
A suicide car bomber barrelled into the heavily armored motorcade belonging to Asadullah Khalid, the governor of Kandahar province and the man who had been gloating most prominently over Dadullah’s lifeless corpse just five days earlier.
Khalid wasn’t in his bulletproof SUV at the time of the attack, but three bystanders died and at least seven people including Information and Culture Minister Abdul Karim Khurram and his chief Kandahar deputy were slightly injured.
“After Dadullah’s death, the Taliban have become quite reactionary and desperately emotional,” Khalid told local journalists at a news conference following the attack.
“We have to strengthen our security and get ready for defending innocent civilians. We mustn’t lose courage; we have to face each action of the Taliban very confidently.”
Khalid said he personally would not be dissuaded from the job at hand. “Behind this attack for sure, for sure, is the Taliban,” he said in English. “And they want to do this because of Dadullah. But we will serve our country and continue this.”
It was the second attack on what proved to be a bloody day in Kandahar, which began with a carefully co-ordinated dual roadside bombing calculated to deliver maximum carnage – a hallmark of Al-Qaida insurgents in Iraq but a comparatively rare event in Afghanistan.
The initial blast killed four private security guards driving into Kandahar from Kabul. Less than 20 minutes later, with police, emergency crews and journalists crowding the scene, a second radio-controlled blast erupted, killing three Afghan police officers and injuring four others.
On the streets of Kandahar, there was palpable fear among the few residents who were on the streets Thursday night as the city braced for a long stretch of violent repercussions.
“Even the governor is not secure,” said Haji Salam, 47.
“The civilians no longer feel secure. Nobody can come out from their homes to do business as a result of the bombings. Civilians are scared of suicide attacks against Afghan police and coalition forces. Civilians are the ones who suffer more serious and precious losses of their loved ones.”
The city was supposed to be safer without the man Khalid had branded as the “Butcher of Kandahar,” as well as three other lesser regional commanders killed three days later — Mullah Abdul Hakim, Mullah Abdul Manan and Mullah Zarif.
Instead, it now finds itself caught in a perilous crossfire between a defiant governor and an insurgency enraged by what it considers Khalid’s callous handling of Dadullah’s remains.
“If there is enmity between the government and the Taliban, why should innocent civilians be killed and sacrificed illogically?” asked Haji Ghani, 32.
“The public thought that Kandahar would become more secure after the death of Dadullah and three other important commanders, but it became worse than before. Insecurity creates problems in the business world as well. Now the circumstances are unfavourable for everyone here.”
Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, said the first attack was planned to target police responding to the blast.
“First we set off a remote -controlled explosion on a police vehicle, then we were waiting for the police to arrive on the scene, then we did a second blast,” Ahmadi told The Associated Press by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.
Dadullah was killed Saturday during a U.S.-led coalition operation in neighbouring Helmand province that included Afghan National Army soldiers. His badly scarred body, a telltale stump in place of the left leg he lost to a mine during his battles against Russian invaders in the 1980s, bore what looked like bullet wounds in the stomach and to the back of the head.
The Taliban have warned of “bad consequences” if the government didn’t hand over Dadullah’s body to his relatives. Khalid has said that Dadullah was buried at a secret location near Kandahar.
About 1,800 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an AP count based on U.S., NATO and Afghan officials.
In the usually quiet north, where rebel violence is rare, a roadside bomb hit the car of the Badakhshan provincial police chief as he was going to work Thursday, killing one of his bodyguards and wounding the chief himself and three other guards, said deputy governor Sham-sul Rahman.
© The Canadian Press, 2007
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