JALALABAD: A suicide bomber targeted an Afghan government official at a village funeral near the Pakistan border on Tuesday, killing at least 20 people and wounding dozens more in one of the deadliest attacks of the year.
One official said up to 25 people died, including a son of the district governor, after the bomber walked into a crowd of mourners paying their respects to a late tribal elder in the remote Shigi village of Dur Baba district in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
District governor Hamisha Gul was the target and was wounded in the blast. His brother was also hurt in the attack, which happened at around 2:30 pm (1000 GMT).
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the Taliban have routinely targeted officials during their decade-long insurgency aimed at evicting US-led NATO troops and bringing down the Western-backed Afghan government.
Violence has risen in recent months as insurgents look to capitalise on the phased withdrawal of the bulk of 130,000 Western combat troops who are due to leave at the end of 2014 and transfer full responsibility for security to their Afghan counterparts.
Local officials suggested the attack could have been to avenge a recent pledge by tribesmen in the area to rise up against any Taliban who may stray into the district.
Witnesses described scenes of horror.
“I heard a big bang and saw smoke all over the place, then I saw pieces of flesh and people all around me were covered in blood. I don’t know what happened, but it caused a lot of casualties,” one victim told AFP from a hospital without giving his name.
The interior ministry confirmed 20 deaths and said 50 people were wounded, including the district governor. “Some wounded people are in a critical condition, the toll might rise,” spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP.
Due to the remote location of the attack, casualty reports differed.
“Twenty-five people, including the son of the district governor, have been killed and 30 other people were injured,” said Nangarhar provincial spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, adding that Gul was wounded by the attacker, who came on foot.
Tuesday’s bombing was one of the worst attacks of the year in Afghanistan and comes just weeks after the deadliest day of 2012, when 50 people were killed in a series of attacks.
It is not the first time that suicide bombers have attacked funerals in the country.
On December 25, 2011, 19 people, including an MP, were killed in the northeastern city of Taluqan after a bomber walked into a burial ceremony and detonated explosives strapped to his chest.
Lawmaker Abdulmutalib Baiga, a former anti-Taliban Northern Alliance commander and the former police chief of Kunduz province, died in the Taluqan attack. He was working with opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah in the newly-established National Coalition of Afghanistan.
The United Nations says 1,145 civilians were killed and 1,954 wounded in the war in the first six months of this year, with the world body blaming 80 percent of the deaths on insurgents.