KABUL, Afghanistan: A suicide bomber killed at least 25 people and wounded dozens at a funeral in eastern Afghanistan Tuesday, officials said, the latest large-scale attack on civilians.
A local district chief and dozens of his relatives were at the ceremony in the Dur Baba district of Nangarhar province, near the Pakistan border, when a man detonated a vest he was wearing packed with explosives, the officials said.
They said Dur Baba district chief Haji Hamesha Gul, who was wounded in the attack, is believed to have been the main target.
“My brother saw the bomber and grabbed him just as he pushed the button, killing him and many others,” Gul told Reuters from a hospital bed in Jalalabad, Nangarhar’s capital.
Khan Mohammad, also in hospital in Jalalabad after being wounded in the attack, said: “I was at the graveyard just putting the dead body inside the tomb when I heard a loud explosion. Many people were screaming and crying for help.”
The provincial governor’s spokesman, Ahmadzia Abdulzai, said the attack was aimed at Gul and his supporters because they had recently opposed insurgents in the area. The funeral was for one of Gul’s relatives.
“We have at least 25 innocent people martyred and around 65 others wounded,” Abdulzai said. NATO also put the death toll at 25, and confirmed more than 50 were people wounded.
The Interior Ministry blamed Taliban insurgents for the bombing.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and offered his condolences to the victims’ families, he said.
Despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of Afghan and foreign troops fighting the Taliban-led insurgency, violence is at its worst since the Islamists were toppled by Afghan and U.S. forces in late 2001, five years after they took power.
Tuesday’s attack was carried out days after 15 young men and two young women were beheaded in the southern Helmand province, punishment meted out by Taliban fighters for a mixed-sex party with music and dancing.
Separately, NATO’s secretary-general said Tuesday the force will “do everything it takes” to stop the surge of assaults by Afghan soldiers and police on their foreign allies.
“Our goal, our strategy, our timetable remain the same,” Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
The U.S. and its allies are pushing to have Afghan forces take over security for the country by the end of 2014. That effort has been imperiled by the spike in insider attacks, which have killed 45 international service members this year, most of them Americans. There were at least 12 such attacks in August alone, resulting in 15 deaths.
Measures to prevent insider attacks may include strengthened vetting and screening procedures, improved counterintelligence, as well as cultural awareness training, Fogh Rasmussen told journalists. He did not elaborate.
Officials say that the international coalition ultimately hopes to re-check the backgrounds of the entire Afghan army and police forces.
“We have introduced and will continue to introduce a broad range of measures to prevent such attacks, [which] threaten to undermine trust and confidence between foreign troops and Afghan security forces,” Fogh Rasmussen said. “We’ll do everything it takes to prevent such attacks.”
Suicide attacks and roadside bombs are the biggest killers of civilians and Afghan and foreign soldiers.
A half-yearly report by the U.N. said that 1,145 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year, and 1,954 wounded. It said Taliban militants were responsible for 80 percent of civilian casualties.