By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 7, 2011; 11:19 AM
KABUL - A suicide bomber killed 17 people and wounded at least 20 others Friday when he detonated his explosives in a public bathhouse where dozens of men were washing at midday before weekly prayers in the southern city of Spin Boldak on the Pakistani border.
A spokesman for the governor of Kandahar province said 16 civilians and a police inspector died in the blast. NATO officials said three of its forces were also killed Friday in roadside explosions and another Afghan police inspector was shot to death by unidentified gunmen in Kandahar City.
Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the bathhouse bombing, underscoring the ruthlessness of an avowedly Islamic movement that often targets fellow Afghan Muslims, including clerics and worshipers in mosques.
The attack also showed that despite a sustained NATO offensive in Kandahar and the surrounding region during the past year, the insurgents are capable of inflicting serious harm to large numbers of civilians in heavily populated areas.
A Taliban spokesman was quoted as saying that the blast was aimed at the deputy commander of the Afghan border patrol in Spin Boldak, one of two major crossing points into Pakistan.
The commander of the area's border patrol, Abdul Razak, is an ally of U.S. forces who has been credited with maintaining a tight trip on law and order despite a poor personal reputation for abuses and corruption. The identity of the police officer killed at the bath house was not immediately clear.
President Hamid Karzai, in a statement issued by his office, denounced the bombing as a "brutal" and un-Islamic act. "Those behind this attack should know once again that the blood of the Muslim people has been spilled. It will not have any other result," Karzai said.
The president did not mention the Taliban, whose leaders he has been trying to draw into peace negotiations. Karzai has often described Taliban members as "sons of the soil" as he has encouraged them to reintegrate into Afghan society. So far the insurgents have responded only with violence.
The U.S. Embassy also issued a statement condemning the bombing as a "callous terrorist act." Many of the wounded, including three Pakistanis, were taken to the Pakistani border town of Chaman for medical treatment.
Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been high for many months. Officials in Kabul accuse Pakistan of providing safe havens for the Taliban, but the Afghan government has also sent members of a national peace council to Pakistan this week to find ways to include Pakistanis in reconciliation efforts with insurgents.