At least 20 people, including a member of parliament, have been killed and about 40 others injured in a suicide attack in northern Afghanistan.
The attacker embraced legislator Ahmad Khan, a former militia commander, in front of guests at his daughter’s wedding before detonating the explosives strapped around his waist, a security forces spokesman said.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent Bernard Smith described the wedding in Aybak, capital of Samangan province, as “high-profile”.
He reported that it had attracted a list of guests including parliamentarians, senators and the head of intelligence for the province, Mohammed Khan, who was also killed in the blast early Saturday.
The police chief for western Afghanistan was also killed.
The bride and groom survived, but never got the chance to exchange vows.
The wedding hall’s floor was covered with shattered glass, blood and other debris.
“I came out and saw 40 to 50 people everywhere on the ground – wounded and killed,” said Salahuddin, a witness. “I could see people with missing legs and body parts all around me.”
The Samangan province is normally peaceful and there was confusion as to who was behind the attack.
“It could be some sort of revenge attack, ordinarily it is the Taliban that uses suicide attacks,” our correspondent reported.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told the Associated Press in a phone call that the Taliban neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the attack.
‘Enemies of Afghanistan’
President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing, saying it was “carried out by the enemies of Afghanistan”, a term normally used by Afghan officials to refer to the Taliban. He also appointed a delegation to investigate the attack.
Kate Clark, senior analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, speaking to Al Jazeera from Kabul, said Saturday’s attack was rare not only for the north of the country, but also for Afghanistan as a whole, since “so many senior government officials were killed”.
An ethnic Uzbek, Khan was a militia commander during the decades of conflict in Afghanistan, when his forces held sway in the area.
Khan fought tenaciously against the Taliban in difficult circumstances and “he came through as one of the most significant anti-Taliban commanders of the north”, Clark said.
His killing came a day after a regional head of women’s affairs was targeted and killed by a car bomb in Afghanistan’s east.
Hanifa Safi was killed while driving through the capital of Laghman province, Mehtar Lam, when a bomb attached to her car exploded, provincial governor spokesman Sarhadi Zwak said.
“The deliberate killing of a brave woman and a public servant, dedicated to improving the situation of Afghan women and working for the safety and security of her country, is an outrage,” Jan Kubis, the UN representative to Kabul, said.
Safi, appointed in 2008, was the second provincial head of women’s affairs to be assassinated since the posts were created a decade ago in each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, reporting to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul.
Safia Ama Jan, who headed the department in southern Kandahar province, was gunned down in 2006 by the Taliban.