Five killed in Herat explosion
HERAT: A bomb explosion killed at least five people and injured 34 in this western Afghan city on Sunday, raising fresh concern about security for landmark elections.
The United Nations said the blast was the latest in a string of violent incidents that underscored the need for the immediate deployment of more international troops to protect the October 9 presidential vote and parliamentary elections in April.
The explosion came less than two days after the announcement of the poll dates and just ahead of a ceremony to mark the start of disarmament of Herat’s militia forces, part of a drive seen as crucial to creating conditions for a free and fair vote.
The bomb exploded outside a military post near a busy morning market in the ancient city, which is not far from the Iranian border, provincial spokesman Ghulam Muhammad Masoan said.
“The death toll has reached five, a child is among them. And we have 34 injured,” said Nasir Habib, a doctor at the main Herat hospital, adding that the toll could rise as some were critically hurt. All victims were civilians and included women and children.
Herat police chief Ziauddin Mahmoodi said the bomb might have been hidden in a bucket and the Taliban could be to blame.
Lieutenant-Colonel James Hand, head of a US civilian-military team helping with security in Herat, said there were also reports it was a bicycle or a motorcycle bomb. He said he had no clue as to who might have carried out the attack.
Mr Masoan called the bomb the work of “those people who do not want a stable Herat” — an apparent reference to rivals of the powerful provincial governor, Ismail Khan.
Herat has long been seen as one of the most stable parts of the country, but in March fighting erupted between forces loyal to a government military commander and Mr Khan’s militia, in which Mr Khan’s son, Aviation Minster Mirwaiz Sadiq, was killed.
President Hamid Karzai sent national troops to intervene but commanders loyal to Mr Khan, who forced those of the rival commander out of the city, said they were not needed. The ceremony marking the start of disarmament of Mr Khan’s militia began three hours after the blast, at a military base 10 kilometres away.
Disarming of irregulars commanded by strongmen like Mr Khan has moved much more slowly than hoped, with only about 10,000 demobilised out of a total of some 50,000. Some commanders, including Mr Khan, have warned that disarming their forces will increase instability, especially while a new national army — currently 12,000 strong — is still so small.
At a news briefing, UN Special Representative Jean Arnault did not rule out the possibility that blasts like the one in Herat might be the work of those opposed to disarmament. reuters