Afghan men wait at a voter registration center in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 16, 2013. Afghanistan’s presidential race kicked off Monday as election authorities began accepting the nominations of would-be candidates, the start of a wide-open race whose winner will oversee the final phases of the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops amid a relentless Taliban insurgency. (Rahmat Gul/Associated Press)

The Taliban killed a top election official in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, in an attack that many here saw as an early effort to disrupt the country’s looming presidential elections.

Two gunmen on a motorbike shot Amanullah Aman, the head of the Independent Election Commission in Kunduz province, as he walked to his office, according to local police officials. The Taliban announced in a Dari-language post on Twitter shortly after the attack that Aman “was killed by our Mujahideen.”

The killing sent a shock wave through the Independent Election Commission, which this week opened the registration process for presidential candidates. The election is scheduled for April 5 next year. President Hamid Karzai issued a statement Wednesday criticizing insurgents for attempting to derail the electoral process.

“The Taliban, at the dictation of their foreign masters, wants to prevent our people from choosing their destiny through the election,” he said.

Aman’s colleagues remembered him as a hardworking man who was committed to building a democratic Afghanistan.

“The killing prompts us to once again urge the security forces to provide a secure atmosphere, both for the election workers and the voters,” said Noor Ahmad Noor, a spokesman for the IEC.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul also deplored the killing, saying a statement, “We reject the barbaric use of murder to intimidate innocent elections officials working to ensure their fellow Afghans can exercise their democratic rights.”

Days before Aman’s killing, the commission’s chairman, Yusuf Nuristani, raised concerns about security in an interview with The Washington Post.

“It’s my biggest worry,” he said. “There is still some inability of our security forces.”

Nuristani said that 259 of nearly 7,000 polling centers are currently beyond the government’s control.

The election coincides with the final withdrawal of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which some worry could further destabilize the country. But Karzai and Nuristani reiterated that despite Taliban threats, the election will take place as planned.

“This kind of crime by the Taliban will not weaken the will of the Afghans and will not deter the convocation of a nationwide election,” Karzai said in Wednesday’s statement.

Sayed Salahuddin and Mohammad Sharif contributed to this report.