Governor of Afghanistan's Kunduz province, 19 others killed in bombing at mosque
Friday, October 8, 2010; 8:11 PM
KABUL - The governor of a northern Afghan province that has been increasingly beset by violence was killed Friday afternoon, along with at least 19 other people, when a bomb blast tore through prayer services at a mosque in a neighboring province, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.
Mohammad Omar, the governor of Kunduz, was a regular attendee at the Shirkat mosque in Taloqan, the capital of Takhar province, where he was born and kept a home. Afghan officials said they think he was the intended target of the bombing, which injured more than 35 people.
U.S. and Afghan officials here condemned the attack, taking particular note of the brutality of detonating a bomb among civilians in a house of worship. President Hamid Karzai described the bombing in a statement as "one of the major attacks on human beings and Islam."
"Without a doubt, God will punish those people," Karzai said.
As the violence in Afghanistan has intensified in recent years, the civilian death toll has climbed as well, with much of the killing perpetrated by Taliban insurgents. In their day-to-day messages about the conflict, NATO forces have sought to highlight the carnage inflicted by the Taliban, in an attempt to bolster grass-roots opposition here to their tactics.
"It's unconscionable that anyone would attack a mosque. It's clear the insurgents have no respect for the most holy of Islamic places," said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a top NATO spokesman.
Omar and his nephew had come to the mosque for Friday prayers, as the governor routinely did when he left Kunduz to visit his native province. When Omar entered and the service began, a few people stood up and left the mosque just moments before a remote-controlled bomb exploded in the room, according to Haji Kher Mohammad, Takhar's deputy police chief.
"Mohammad Omar always stood against the enemies of Afghanistan," Haji Kher Mohammad said.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said investigators had not concluded whether the attack involved a suicide bomber or a remotely triggered explosive.
Before becoming governor of Kunduz, Omar served as governor of neighboring Baghlan province. He fought in the guerrilla resistance against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and in the ensuing civil war as a commander allied with Abdurrab Rasul Sayyaf, a Northern Alliance militia leader.
Omar was staunchly anti-Taliban and deeply committed to halting the spread of the insurgency in Kunduz, according to those who worked with him. "He was always asking NATO forces to take the issue of the Taliban in Kunduz province seriously and to really fight them," said a former Afghan intelligence official based in Kunduz who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Omar recently warned in an interview on Afghan television that 40 percent of his province was under the sway of Taliban insurgents and that al-Qaeda also operated there. He called for more troops to confront the insurgents.
Hamdard is a special correspondent.