South Asia

Afghan suicide bomber in Kunduz 'kills dozens'

A mother touches her wounded son after a suicide attack in Emam Saheb district of Kunduz province February 21, 2011
Image caption Dozens of people were injured in the blast

At least 30 people have died after a suicide bomber targeted a government building in northern Afghanistan.

The attacker struck as people lined up to collect identity cards in the Imam Saheb district of Kunduz province, a local official said.

The Taliban said they carried out the attack, but claimed to have targeted an army recruitment centre.

Violence has been on the increase in Afghanistan where tens of thousands of foreign troops are based.

The attack comes one day after the Taliban attacked a branch of Kabul Bank in the eastern city of Jalalabad, targeting police and intelligence officers who were collecting their salaries.

Kunduz insurgency

The BBC's Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi in Kabul says that although the Taliban are saying the target in Imam Saheb was an army recruitment centre, eyewitnesses and local officials say it was a government census office.

The Taliban would not want to be seen to be deliberately targeting civilians, our correspondent says.

The bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance to the government building at midday, Imam Saheb's police chief Abdul Qayum Ebrahimi told the Associated Press news agency.

"Today it was very crowded," Mr Ebrahimi said. "People had gathered in the front of the department to get identification cards."

The insurgency in Afghanistan is still fiercest in the south and east, but security has been deteriorating in the once-peaceful north. In the past few months, coalition and Afghan troops have been fighting pitched battles with insurgents.

Over the last few years, Taliban influence has been growing in Kunduz province.

In October last year, a powerful bomb killed the governor of Kunduz, Mohammad Omar, and 19 others in a crowded mosque in neighbouring Takhar province.

Civilian and military casualties in Afghanistan are at levels not seen for a decade - last year, more than 2,400 civilians died.

Nato strikes

The blast comes as controversy erupted over Nato air strikes in eastern Afghanistan. Local officials accused Nato of killing scores of civilians in air strikes in Kunar province on Sunday.

Image caption Nato is investigating an incident in Nangarhar province where some civilians were mistakenly killed

But Nato dismissed these reports, with one senior official saying he saw video footage of the battle in Kunar and that there was no evidence of civilian deaths.

Nato maintains it killed 36 insurgents in the area but local tribal elders and officials say 64 civilians died in the attack. An investigation is under way.

But Nato have issued an apology over a separate incident on Sunday when at least two civilians were killed after a missile mistakenly hit their home in Nangarhar province.

Earlier this month, a human rights watchdog said that 2010 was the deadliest year for Afghans since the war began in 2001.

Afghanistan Rights Monitor said the Taliban were responsible for about 60% of the 2,400 civilians killed, while US-led forces were accountable for 21%.