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The Associated Press, November 18, 2007

Afghan Blast Toll Includes Many Shot by Lawmakers' Guards, UN Says

Among the dead were 61 students and five teachers, Education Ministry adviser Hamid Almi said.

BAGHLANI-JADID - As many as two-thirds of the 77 people killed and 100 wounded in a suicide bombing Nov. 6 were hit by bullets from visiting lawmakers' panicked bodyguards, who fired into a crowd for as long as five minutes, a preliminary U.N. report says.

A mother who lost 3 of her sons
A mother, who lost three sons in the blast, cries on their dead-bodies. She says: "I sent my children to school to get education, not to be used for welcoming MPs."

Baghlan Blast

Baghlan Blast

Baghlan Blast

Baghlan Blast
Most of the victims in the Baghlan blast are school children who were brought by officials to line up to welcome the MPs. (AP photos)

Afghanistan's Interior Ministry has said that only a "small number" of the victims were hit by gunfire, but an Afghan official in the northern province of Baghlan said that bodyguards were "raining bullets" on the crowd of mostly schoolchildren.

The suicide bomb contained ball bearings, the Interior Ministry said, which could have caused wounds resembling bullet holes.

Separate teams of U.N. investigators have uncovered conflicting information about the number of people hit by gunfire and are trying to reconcile the differences, according to two Western officials who have seen the internal reports. The two spoke on condition of anonymity.

But at least one of those reports -- based on interviews with witnesses and medical authorities and a reconstruction of the bombing scene -- says that of the roughly 77 people killed and 100 wounded, as many as two-thirds were hit by gunfire that the bodyguards directed at the crowd for three to five minutes, one official said.

"A large number of people, and quite probably a majority, were killed and wounded as a result of gunfire after the blast," said the second official, a U.N. employee. The official said one internal report is highly critical of the bodyguards' reaction.

Among the dead were 61 students and five teachers, Education Ministry adviser Hamid Almi said. Six members of parliament and five bodyguards also died. The deadliest previous suicide bombing in Afghanistan was in June, when 35 people were killed in a bomb attack on a police bus.

One of the lawmakers killed last week was Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, chief spokesman for Afghanistan's opposition National Front. No group has asserted responsibility for the attack. A government investigation is also underway.

Adrian Edwards, the U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan, said there is "very, very conflicting" information on the number of gunfire victims. "The reports we're hearing are that significant numbers were victims of gunfire, but defining who died from gunfire, who died from the explosion, is pretty difficult," he said.

Hundreds of children had crowded onto the tree-lined driveway leading to the New Baghlan Sugar Company factory to greet visiting lawmakers when the blast occurred.

Afghanistan's north has been relatively quiet compared with the south, but a handful of attacks, including at least five suicide bombings in neighboring Kunduz province, indicate some anti-government presence here. This was the first suicide bombing in Baghlan province, officials said.

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