Two suicide bombers targeted worshippers concluding prayers marking a key Muslim festival in northern Afghanistan, with one of them blowing himself up and killing seven people including two local police commanders, officials said Sunday.
The second would-be bomber was captured before he could set off his explosives, said Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, spokesman for the regional police commander in the north.
The bombers targeted worshippers who were exiting a mosque in the outskirts of Baghlan province’s Old Baghlan City and congratulating each other on the start of the Eid al-Adha, the Festival of the Sacrifice.
At least 18 other people were hospitalized with injuries from the blast, which occurred in Hassin Tal, an area about 6 miles (10 kilometers) east of the city.
Among the seven people killed were two local police commanders, said Kamen Khan, the police chief in Old Baghlan City. One of them was a well-known local leader named Abdul who, like many Afghans, goes only by one name.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Taliban, against whom NATO has waged a decade-long war, routinely target Afghan officials and security forces as well as international forces.
Separately, NATO said that one of its service members was killed following an insurgent attack in the south on Saturday. The death raises to 494 the number of coalition troops killed in the country so far this year. NATO provided no other details.
As the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan partners have focused their operations on Taliban strongholds in the south and east, the insurgency has carried out an increasing number of attacks in the north and west.
NATO is working to handing over full security responsibilities to Afghan forces before the end of 2014, when the coalition plans to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan.
NATO officials say attacks such as Sunday’s bombing do little more than grab headlines, and have little impact on the balance of strength between the government and the insurgents.
However, the bombings do raise questions about Afghan forces’ ability to tackle the insurgency head-on without their NATO partners.
Politically, attacks such as the Baghlan blast in the north could complicate the Afghan government’s pursuit of reconciliation with the insurgents, as the United States is pressuring it to do.
Ethnic minorities, who reside outside southern Afghanistan where the Taliban are at their strongest, are the most resistant to efforts to reconcile with the insurgents.
Minorities worry that President Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun, will make too many concessions to the Taliban to shore up his Pashtun base and craft a peace deal to end the war. While the continued assassination of prominent northerners might reduce the minorities’ political clout, it is also likely to erode their already minimal appetite for a peace settlement.
Five leaders affiliated with the Northern Alliance, a coalition mostly composed of non-Pashtun minorities which has fought the Taliban since 1996, have been slain in a little over a year. They included Gen. Daud Daud, an ethnic Tajik who oversaw police activities in nine northern provinces, as well as three provincial police chiefs and one provincial governor.