KABUL — Afghanistan’s national intelligence director was badly injured Thursday in a suicide bombing in the capital that officials described as an assassination attempt, adding that the bomb exploded as he was greeting a visitor at his private guesthouse.
A Taliban spokesman asserted responsibility for the afternoon attack on Asadullah Khalid, 43, a controversial former governor and cabinet minister who was named to the top intelligence post in September by President Hamid Karzai in a cabinet shake-up.
Government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said that Khalid was rushed to a hospital operated by the National Directorate of Security and that he had suffered multiple injuries to his lower body.
A police officer described Khalid’s injuries as severe, but intelligence officials said they were not life-threatening. “The director general survived a cowardly terrorist attack,” the intelligence service said in a brief statement.
Karzai visited Khalid in the hospital Thursday evening, telling reporters afterward that the intelligence director’s condition was good and that he was undergoing surgery. “We now have lots of hope that he will recover,” the president said.
The attack recalled the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president and head of the High Peace Council, who was killed in September 2011 by a suicide bomber who entered his Kabul residence posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban. The man detonated the bomb as Rabbani was greeting him.
Late Thursday, a spokesman for the intelligence service, Shafiqullah Tahiri, said that the suicide bomber in the attack on Khalid had been “representing the Taliban group” as a “messenger of peace” and that he had ostensibly come to talk to the intelligence chief about “negotiations with the Afghan side.”
Tahiri said the man blew himself up while meeting with the intelligence director at his guesthouse. Khalid often used the heavily guarded facility, in Kabul’s residential Taimani district, for private meetings.
The attack deals a sharp blow to Afghanistan’s highly regarded intelligence service, which has been intensively trained by U.S. advisers. Its function is similar to that of the FBI.
Khalid, an imposing and charismatic political figure, was known as a leading opponent of the Taliban and had served Karzai as governor of two provinces that are centers of Taliban activity, Kandahar and Ghazni. A native of Ghazni and a politician’s son, he is from the same Pashtun ethnic group as Karzai and is regarded as one of his most loyal aides.
However, Khalid, who lived in Northern Virginia for several years, also drew criticism from human rights groups and Western diplomats after allegations surfaced in 2010 that he had run a secret dungeon while governor of Kandahar and was involved in drug trafficking. He denied the charges. In 2007, he survived another assassination attempt.
In November, the Taliban also asserted responsibility for a suicide bombing in Kabul that killed two Afghan guards. In that incident, two attackers dressed in military uniforms penetrated one of the capital’s most highly secured zones, containing several embassies and a U.S. military base.
Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul contributed to this report.