Suicide Bomber in Afghanistan Kills More Than 80 at Dogfighting Event

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 18, 2008

LAHORE, Pakistan, Feb. 17 -- More than 80 people were killed Sunday morning in southern Afghanistan when a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a field full of men and boys watching dogfights near the city of Kandahar, police and government officials said.

The bombing, which also left at least 50 people injured, was the deadliest attack in the country since the extremist Taliban militia was overthrown in 2001 and replaced by a civilian administration.

Officials said the death toll could rise because many of the injuries were critical.

The bombing was the latest in a series of suicide attacks that have been attributed to the revived Taliban insurgency and its allies. In the past 18 months, bombers have attacked police and army buses, a group of legislators and schoolchildren outside a factory and a five-star hotel in Kabul, the capital.

The victims Sunday included the head of the local auxiliary police and 13 police officers who were watching the dogfights, which are popular in Afghanistan. The Taliban had banned dogfighting during the late 1990s because it involves high-stakes gambling.

Afghanistan's Western backers in the NATO military alliance, which has about 40,000 troops there, are embroiled in a debate about how to step up support as security continues to deteriorate and the reach of violent Islamic militias spreads across the country and parts of Pakistan.

The governor of Kandahar province, Asadullah Khalid, said the attack Sunday was carried out by Afghanistan's enemies, a term that officials use to describe insurgents and their foreign allies. The Arghandab district where the bombing occurred has long been known as a haven for Taliban forces and their sympathizers.

A spokesman for the Taliban, Khalid Mohammed Yusuf, denied responsibility for the attack, according to Tolo television, a private Afghan channel. Afghan officials, however, said the Taliban often denies involvement in attacks that cause high civilian casualties.

Gen. Sayed Agha Saqid, the Kandahar police chief, said the slain auxiliary police official, Abdul Hakim Jan, a former anti-Soviet militia commander, was watching the dogfights with his bodyguards.

Witnesses said that after the blast, bodyguards fired at the crowd, causing more casualties, according to the Associated Press. Officials would not comment on whether the bodyguards opened fire.

Agha Saqid said the attack could have been the result of a personal feud and that Hakim Jan might have been the target. He also said the perpetrators were "the enemies of Afghanistan and the enemies of Islam."

The previous deadliest bombing, in November, killed 75 people in northern Baghlan province. In that attack, police fired after the bomb exploded, causing additional casualties.

More than 11,000 people have died in violence since the Taliban insurgency flared two years ago. Most attacks have taken place in the southern and eastern regions, including Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban movement, and along the rugged tribal areas on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

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