Afghan presidential race front-runner Abdullah escapes suicide attack in Kabul

Seven people are killed, but the front-runner in Afghanistan's presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, survives a suicide bomb attack on his convoy on Friday in Kabul. (Reuters)
June 6

The front-runner in Afghanistan’s presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, escaped unhurt from an apparent assassination attempt in the capital Friday, just over a week before a runoff vote that Taliban insurgents have vowed to derail.

At least seven people — three of Abdullah’s bodyguards and four pedestrians — were killed by two suicide car bombers, police and a spokesman for Abdullah said.

The blasts targeted a convoy of armored vehicles carrying Abdullah, his two deputies and one of his key allies in the western part of the city, they said.

The explosions occurred in rapid succession outside Kabul’s Ariana Hotel, where Abdullah had just finished a campaign rally. As Abdullah, 54, a former Afghan foreign minister, was heading to a second rally, one bomb struck a vehicle carrying his first deputy, badly damaging it and several other vehicles, according to Fazl Sangcharaki, a spokesman for Abdullah.

“Abdullah’s vehicle was lifted up by the . . . blast and was damaged slightly. He, his deputies and all of his campaign managers are safe,” Sangcharaki said.

Shortly after the attack, Abdullah appeared on television to say he was undeterred by the apparent assassination attempt, the first against a presidential candidate in this year’s election.

“Again, threats can’t stop us and our people. We are still [dedicated] to what we have promised for a better future,” he said.

Abdullah’s second deputy, Haji Mohaqiq, said surviving the attacks showed that “God was on the side” of Abdullah and his team.

Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister who finished second in the April presidential vote and is facing Abdullah in the June 14 runoff, condemned the attack.

“This is the act of the enemies of Afghanistan to disrupt the democratic process in the country,” Ghani was quoted as saying on his social media account.

The blasts shattered windows at the hotel and several other nearby buildings. Damaged vehicles and the wreckage of a car used in the attack could be seen on the road, which was littered with debris.

“They were really powerful explosions. My ears are affected by them,” said Shah Wali, who witnessed the attack.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings. The radical Islamist Taliban movement has carried out such attacks against Afghan ­forces, foreign troops, and targets associated with the government and foreign interests in the past.

The Taliban launched scores of attacks April 5 in the first round of the presidential voting but was unable to prevent millions of Afghans from participating in what has been described as the first peaceful transition of power through the ballot box in the nation’s history.

The Taliban said early this week that it would sabotage the second round and warned people against taking part in the poll.

With most U.S. and NATO troops set to pull out of the country by year’s end, and all U.S. forces scheduled to leave by the end of 2016, a successful runoff is regarded as crucial to Afghanistan’s stability.

If all goes as planned, President Hamid Karzai, who is limited to two terms, will hand over power to his successor in the first week of August.

Afghanistan’s constitution says elections would have to be held again if either of the candidates in the runoff were to die.

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