The New York Times, June 27, 2004

Blast Kills 2 Afghan Women On Election Workers' Bus


Two Afghan women were killed, and at least 11 more people were wounded Saturday morning when a bomb ripped through a bus carrying women working as election registration workers in the eastern city of Jalalabad. A 5-year-old girl was among the wounded.

It was the most serious attack to date on Afghan election workers who are seeking to register millions of people across the country for September's elections.

A Taliban spokesman immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to Reuters, saying the Taliban had warned people not to take part in an election process intended to strengthen the American-backed government.

The bomb appears to have been planted inside the rented minibus and may have been set off by the driver himself, who parked the vehicle outside a military base seconds before the explosion. Afghan soldiers cordoned off the area immediately and caught the driver, who is now under arrest, said the deputy governor of the province, Dr. Asef, who only uses one name.

The women in the bus were registration officials, traveling to an outlying district, Rodat, south of Jalalabad, to register women for the elections. There was at least one child with them, a 5-year-old girl who was in a critical condition Saturday afternoon. She was evacuated to the American military base at Bagram.

Dr. Baz Muhammad Sherzad, the deputy director of Jalalabad's city hospital, who went to the scene of the explosion, said two women died instantly in the back of the bus. Three of the wounded were in very serious condition, including the child, he said. The authorities had not been able to determine whom her mother was yet, he said. One woman had already undergone an amputation, he said.

The United Nations, which is jointly running the election registration process with Afghan partners, reported two women killed and 13 people wounded, including 2 children.

The attack is a huge blow to the election process, which American officials and President Hamid Karzai have pushed to hold this year, as the mandate of his transitional administration expires.

All movement of registration teams made up of women was immediately suspended in the eastern, southeastern and southern regions of the country, where security is of the greatest concern, said a United Nations spokesman, Manoel de Almeida e Silva.

''It is a matter of very, very serious concern,'' he said. ''There is no doubt it was a direct attack on the electoral process.'' He said halting the registration process was not under consideration at this stage.

But as the Taliban and other militants continue their attacks on government officials, aid workers and now election workers, and armed factions are still causing sporadic clashes in northern Afghanistan, it looks more and more likely that the election process will be increasingly disruptive.

But as they have increased their activity, so has the violence. Election officials say local tensions will only increase as the election approaches, particularly because both parliamentary and presidential elections are planned.

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