February 18, 2008 2:00 am

Anti-Taliban leader among 80 victims of Afghan bomb

More than 80 people, including a leading anti-Taliban commander, were killed in the southern province of Kandahar yesterday in one of the worst bomb attacks in Afghanistan since 2001.

The bomb, an apparent attempt to weaken local tribal opposition to the -Taliban, killed Abdul Hakim Jan as he joined a crowd attending dog fights in a park near Kandahar city.

Asadullah Khalid, the -governor of Kandahar, said 80 people were killed in the attack. Local hospitals were overwhelmed trying to take care of more than 90 who were wounded. It was not immediately clear how many people were killed by the blast and how many were caught up in gunfire from Mr Jan's guards following the -explosion.

Dog fighting, which was banned for being un-Islamic under the Taliban regime, can attract hundreds of -spectators.

The habit of onlookers to cram themselves into small circles of land where the contests take place probably contributed to the high death toll.

According to Khalid Pashtun, a member of parliament for Kandahar, Mr Jan, a former Jihad commander, was hated by the Taliban for his role in opposing them in the 1990s.

The Alokozai tribe, of which he was a leading -figure, has been at the forefront of efforts to foil -Taliban efforts to retake Kandahar, the city in which the movement was born in 1994.

Mr Jan recently helped defend Arghandab, a lush district on the northern boundaries of Kandahar city, from an attempted takeover by the Taliban. The late October raid was seen at the time as an audacious attempt to use the orchard lands as a base to lay siege to the provincial capital

Mr Jan's name had been among those suggested as a potential head of the tribe after its previous leader, Mullah Naqib, died of a heart attack in October. It was Mullah Naqib's death that prompted the Taliban attack on Arghandab, which was repulsed by the joint efforts of Canadian forces working with local police, many of whom were members of the Alokozai tribe.

The Taliban, which did not immediately claim responsibility for yesterday's blast, normally tries to avoid large-scale civilian casualties.

In November, the movement denied any involvement in a suicide bomb attack on a group of MPs visiting the northern city of Baghlan. The bombing and subsequent gunfire from bodyguards killed about 70 people, including children.

Taliban fighters have lost nearly all the conventional battles that they have fought with Nato-led foreign forces in the country, prompting them to rely more on bombing tactics.

The last large-scale attack on a crowd gathered for entertainment was in January 2006 when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up among men watching a wrestling bout in the town of Spin Boldak near Kandahar. About 24 people died.

Last year there were 140 suicide attacks in the country, a record number.


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