South Asia

Afghan war: Mayor of Kandahar killed in suicide attack

Ghulam Haidar Hameedi, undated image
Image caption Mr Hameedi returned to Afghanistan in 2006 at the request of President Karzai

The mayor of the volatile Afghan city of Kandahar, Ghulam Haidar Hameedi, has been killed in a suicide attack, officials say.

The attacker detonated explosives in his turban as the mayor made an address at the city hall, police said.

Two weeks ago, President Hamid Karzai's influential half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, was killed in the same city.

The violence comes as Nato troops begin the handover of security to local forces in parts of the country.

The Taliban said they had carried out the attack. There is no independent confirmation of the claim.

Meanwhile, President Karzai has condemned the killing by Nato troops of three civilians travelling in a car in Kapisa province, north of Kabul.

The dead included a pregnant woman and a child. French soldiers opened fire on their vehicle late on Tuesday when it did not stop as it approached them, Nato said.

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet expressed "deep sorrow" over the deaths but said the soldiers had acted in self defence as the car had failed to stop despite repeated warnings.

Stability fears

The killing of Mayor Hameedi has prompted renewed fears over stability in Kandahar, seen as a critical area in the fight against the Taliban.

Correspondents say Mr Hameedi had been speaking to tribal elders who had come to discuss a land dispute when the attack took place.

The attacker infiltrated the group and detonated the explosives. Mr Hameedi was killed instantly, while the attacker and a civilian were also killed.

The mayor had ordered the destruction of about 200 houses in the Loyawala area of Kandahar as they had been built illegally, and two children had been killed as they were knocked down on Tuesday, security sources said.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the Taliban had killed the mayor to avenge the deaths of the children in the demolition work, news agencies reported.

The Taliban claim to have carried out many recent killings in Kandahar but correspondents say it is not yet certain they assassinated the mayor, who had many other enemies.

The assassination is the latest in a string of attacks on influential officials in the country.

Earlier this month, President Karzai's brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, one of the most powerful men in southern Afghanistan, was murdered by his bodyguard in Kandahar city.

Less than a week later, a senior aide to Mr Karzai, Jan Mohammad Khan, died in an attack on his home in Kabul.

'Resilience'

Mayor Hameedi survived an attack on his car in 2009, but his last two deputy mayors were both killed in 2010.

Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, said the US "condemned in the strongest possible terms the death of another top government official", and expressed his condolences.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionRyan Crocker, US ambassador to Afghanistan, condemned the killing

He added that it was not clear who had killed Mr Hameedi.

"There was a demonstration in front of the mayor's office over a road-building incident that resulted in the deaths of one or two young girls. This could turn out to be a murder that didn't have anything to do with the Taliban."

Kandahar was the country's designated capital during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.

It has been the centre of the group's insurgency since they were overthrown in the US-led invasion.