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An Afghan mayor, mourned in the US

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Media captionFamily and friends pay their last respects to Ghulam Haider Hamidi

On 27 July Ghulam Haider Hamidi, the mayor of Kandahar, was killed by a suicide bomber who detonated explosives wrapped inside his turban.

Mr Hamidi was one of a number of high-profile Afghan officials assassinated in recent weeks, and his death was a blow both to the Karzai government and to the US, with whom he worked closely.

But the mayor of Kandahar had another life - in the US state of Virginia, where he had fled after the Soviet Union invaded his country 30 years ago.

In Annandale, a town on Washington DC's suburban fringe, a memorial service was held at a community mosque at the weekend to enable his American friends and family to pay their last respects.

For several hours mourners filed passed the line of sobbing women in a basement room of the Mustafa Center mosque. The nasal chant of prayers from the men's room upstairs echoed from the speakers, augmenting the sounds of grief.

In the centre of the row of folding plastic chairs sat Rangina Hamidi, the murdered mayor's fourth daughter.

She had known his enemies were closing in ever since he survived a similar attack two years ago, but the inevitability of his death did nothing to lessen the shock.

And it was Ms Hamidi who had encouraged the 65-year-old former travel agency book-keeper to leave his quiet life in Virginia and brave the violence and politics of Kandahar, where Afghan President Hamid Karzai wanted him to be mayor.

"There's a part of me that feels extremely guilty because I feel I brought my father to be killed," she said.

"But he was not a baby. He was a smart and intelligent and wise man who knew how to make decisions, and he knew what he wanted."

'My heart sank'

The morning of his death was a typical day in Kandahar. Ms Hamidi prepared a breakfast of eggs with milk and tea and her father hurried off to work. She turned her attention to ordering dresses for herself and her sisters to wear at their brother's wedding in November.

Image caption The Hamidis lived in northern Virginia, part of a community of Afghans who fled the Soviet invasion

A short time later her distraught mother burst into the room to say something had happened to her father. Frantic phone calls revealed little information until she was told he had been taken to the medical facility known as the Chinese hospital, built in the 1970s with Chinese money.

"That's when my heart sank, because they only take dead people to the Chinese hospital," she said. Injured officials are usually treated at the hospital run by Isaf, the International Security Assistance Force.

At the mortuary, they were blocked by police guarding the refrigeration units. Spoozmai Hamidi, Mr Hamidi's widow, confronted them, kicking and pushing them with her fists. Why, she demanded, did they guard her husband's body when they couldn't save his life?

"They pulled out his casket and that's when I lost my senses, I couldn't think anymore," Rangina Hamidi said.

"I didn't want to see my father if he had been blown into pieces. I didn't want to remember him like that."

But Mr Hamidi's body was relatively unscathed and was brought back to the house where the family were able to pay their last respects.

Threat to chaos

"He just looked like he was sleeping," she said. "I kissed his feet for one last time and I asked for forgiveness… and then I let go."

The Taliban said they killed Ghulam Hamidi, but that has not been proven and Ms Hamidi thinks others are to blame.

He had made many enemies in his fight against corruption, she said, and she thinks his assassination may have been plotted by elements within the Karzai government.

"They were the ones losing business in the city and they are the ones whose livelihoods depend on continuing the chaos in Afghanistan," she said. "My father was becoming a threat because he was trying to clean up and put order to the chaos."

Others at the memorial service shared similar feelings. Like Mr Hamidi, many in northern Virginia's Afghan community settled there after fleeing the Soviet invasion.

Holding onto hope

Some have dreamed of going back, but after a decade of conflict involving the US they see no improvement.

"Rather, it's getting worse," said Daoud Ayazi, a close family friend who works as an interpreter in Afghanistan.

"Mr Hamidi's death is a prime example of that failure. His loss is a failure of the country. How many more can we lose? How many have we already lost?"

Nadia Aman, who was born in Afghanistan but now works in the US for the government, tried to be more optimistic.

"We want to still hold onto hope," she said.

"It is fleeting at times when we see such tragedies. Many of us think that there is no future, but there has to be and so we just have to cling on to something."

Mr Hamidi's son Ahmad suggested that some might be inspired by his father's example.

"He was a tiny man in the middle of the war and people look at him and say he did such a great job - it actually encourages them," Ahmad Hamidi said.

"He was my role model. I want to be like him. I will definitely go back one day."

Ms Hamidi herself has spent several years in Afghanistan helping women in Kandahar support themselves by selling their traditional needlework.

But back in Virginia, surrounded by grieving family and friends, she feels ambivalent about her country's future, and said that after her father's death, she could not encourage anyone to return to Afghanistan.

"My heart tells me to continue the legacy my father has left, to help rebuild the country," she said.

"But the reality is I think I've given up on my country. I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel."

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