Afghan Bomber Hits U.S. Embassy Convoy

By FISNIK ABRASHI
The Associated Press
Monday, March 19, 2007; 3:18 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomber exploded his car next to a U.S. Embassy convoy Monday, breaking months of relative calm in the Afghan capital with an attack that killed a teenage pedestrian and wounded five security guards on a notoriously dangerous stretch of road.

The first suicide attack in Kabul since December knocked one armored SUV across Jalalabad Road, which sees more bombings and rocket attacks than any other area in Kabul. Two other Chevrolet Suburbans also were damaged by the blast, which left the attack car a burning wreck.

A 15-year-old Afghan on the side of the road was killed, said Hasib Arian, the district police chief.

Five U.S. Embassy guards were injured, one seriously, said Col. Tom Collins, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force. The U.S. ambassador, Ronald Neumann, was not in the convoy, embassy spokesman Joe Mellott said.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said in a phone call to The Associated Press that a Taliban militant from Khost province conducted the attack.

The explosion, witnessed by an Associated Press reporter traveling behind the convoy, occurred about 2 miles from the embassy on the road leading to the U.S. military base at Bagram and on to the city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan.

Last month, a suicide bomber killed 23 people outside the Bagram base during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney. In September, a suicide bombing near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul killed 16 people, including two U.S. soldiers.

The U.S. Embassy closed after Monday's attack and issued a warning to Americans in Kabul.

U.S. Embassy security teams initially prevented Afghan police, NATO soldiers and journalists from getting close to the vehicles.

"When I reached the bomb site, I told them, `I am the chief of district No. 9. It is my duty to investigate, let me go,'" said Arian, the police chief. "But they didn't listen. They pushed me, they humiliated me."

Also Monday, Daniele Mastrogiacomo, a reporter for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, was released by the Taliban after two weeks in captivity in Helmand province. Italian Premier Romano Prodi said securing his freedom "was not simple." The reporter is in good health, Prodi said in Rome.

In the southern province of Kandahar, a roadside bomb hit a police vehicle Monday, killing Panjwayi district's chief of the criminal division, provincial police chief Esmatullah Alizai said. Also in Panjwayi, a suicide bomber attacked a police team working to eradicate opium poppies, damaging one vehicle but causing no injuries, Alizai said.

Afghanistan has seen a surge in violence over the past year as supporters of the former Taliban regime have stepped up attacks and increasingly adopted the deadly suicide and roadside bombings used by insurgents in Iraq.

Afghan officials struggling to contain the violence are drawing increasing criticism from the public over corruption.

According to a survey released by the independent Integrity Watch Afghanistan, about 60 percent of Afghans feel the current administration is more corrupt than the Soviet-backed regime in the 1980s and the Taliban-run government in the late 1990s.

"Corruption has undermined the legitimacy of the state," said the group's executive director, Lorenzo Delesgues.

Money "can buy government appointments, bypass justice or evade police" and the government is "unable or unwilling to seriously tackle corruption," the group said. It said its poll interviewed 1,258 Afghans, but gave no margin of error for the findings.

The opium trade fuels corruption, with police and other government officials looking the other way after payoffs from farmers and drug runners. Government workers also demand bribes to process simple paperwork, and many Afghans pay bribes to avoid trouble with police.


© 2007 The Associated Press