KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) – An assailant dressed in the uniform of the new Afghan army fired on a car carrying President Hamid Karzai yesterday, hours after an explosives-packed car tore through a crowded Kabul market, killing at least 10 people.
The violence was the most serious challenge to Karzai’s government, which has been struggling to bring order and security to a country wracked by decades of bloodshed.
Afghan officials were quick to blame Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network for the violence, which came less than a week before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Terrorists are behind both attacks, there is no doubt about it. And terrorists in this region are led by Osama and his associates,” said Foreign Minister Abdullah.
The government offered no immediate evidence of bin Laden’s involvement, and others blamed the rising anger of the Pashtun majority toward a government controlled by Americans and dominated by rival Tajiks from the north.
The British Broadcasting Corp. said the attacker came from a former Taliban stronghold.
President Bush expressed relief that Karzai was safe, and administration officials pledged to keep helping rebuild the country.
“We’re not leaving,” Bush said. “We want to help democracy flourish in that region.”
The assassination attempt occurred soon after Karzai, who was in his hometown of Kandahar for the wedding of his youngest brother, finished evening prayers at the city’s historic Khalqa Sharif mosque.
After the prayers, Karzai and his party were given a tour of the governor’s mansion, located across the street from the mosque. Karzai’s motorcade was preparing to leave the governor’s compound as hundreds of well-wishers were pressing against the gates to catch a glimpse of the president.
“We were standing at the gates and saw Karzai wave,” said Sardar Mohammed. “Then I saw one guard point a Kalashnikov at Karzai and fire. There was a kid behind him, and he grabbed the gunman from behind.”
Kandahar security chief Dur Mohammed said Karzai’s U.S. military bodyguards immediately opened fire, killing the assailant and two others. The presidential motorcade sped off within moments of the attack, while gunsmoke lingered over the mansion’s grounds. The governor of Kandahar, Gul Agha Sherzai, was grazed in the neck and Karzai was unharmed.
In its report, the BBC identified the attacker as Abdul Rahman, who had joined the security forces of Sherzai less than three weeks ago.