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The New York Times, August 2, 2010

Car Bomber Fails to Reach Afghan Governor, but Kills Six Children at Play

“We are feeble against both forces, whether Taliban or government. We cannot stop them; we can just bear the consequences.”


GUSH KHANA, Afghanistan — To residents of this farming village just outside the city of Kandahar on Monday, the erratic driver of a white Toyota Corolla appeared to be a learner, or possibly a drunk driver, swerving from one side of the highway to the other.

Six children were killed in a blast which targeted the governor of Kandahar
The scene of a suicide car bombing that killed six children in Dand District in Kandahar Province on Monday. A second bomb exploded as the police and bystanders rushed to help the wounded. (Photo: Allauddin Khan/Associated Press)

But the governor of Dand District, in a car heading toward him, thought otherwise and ordered his own driver to slam on the brakes, just in time to stop out of range as the Corolla, 200 yards away, exploded in a fireball that killed six children nearby and set neighboring houses and shops ablaze.

The governor, Haji Ahmadullah Nazak, survived the third attempt by a suicide bomber to kill him in recent months, among eight assassination attempts in all.

The children, three boys and three girls 6 to 10 years old who had been collecting firewood by the roadside, were dismembered and burned nearly beyond recognition by the blast. They were from three families in the village.

As the police and bystanders rushed to help the wounded, a second bomb, apparently hidden in the area and intended for rescuers, detonated, wounding a police officer and two other children, according to the police and provincial officials.

At a news conference, the governor of Kandahar, Tooryalai Wesa, called the attack “inhumane, anti-Islam and anti-Afghan.” Governor Wesa said witnesses reported that the bomber appeared to be a blond, light-skinned foreigner.

President Hamid Karzai, in a statement released by his office, said that “by killing innocent children they have committed a major felony and have chosen hell for themselves.”

The official sentiments were little consolation to the parents of the children. Haji Muhammad, 45, who lost two sons in the suicide blast, said local residents had noticed the bomb-laden car driving through the village erratically, hours before the blast, and the police had criticized them for not alerting them.

“Who should we react to or complain to?” he asked, as his sons’ bodies were being prepared for funeral services at the nearby mosque. “We are feeble against both forces, whether Taliban or government. We cannot stop them; we can just bear the consequences.”

Muhammad Ghus, 40, a local resident who saw the blast, said: “We can do nothing but cry. The whole of Afghanistan is facing this kind of cataclysm. God knows when we will be rid of this.”

The Taliban have stepped up their attacks in Dand District in recent months. Local officials say this escalation is in response to successful reconstruction efforts by the district government and Canadian aid officials, who have organized a wide range of rural development and cash-for-work programs. In addition to the attempted assassinations of the governor, 12 members of the district shura, an advisory council made up of elders, have been assassinated, Governor Nazak said.

Improving district government services is a major element in NATO’s counterinsurgency strategy in Kandahar Province, a Taliban stronghold.

“I saw the children playing by the edge of the road, and they are still in my mind,” Governor Nazak said. “I will not be deterred from the campaign I have launched against the militants. I just wish that it were me or one of my policemen who were killed. It was painful that innocent children have been killed.”

¶ The assassination attempt was one of three on Monday around Afghanistan. In Nangarhar Province, a prominent aide to President Karzai, Waheedullah Sabawoon, a tribal and ethnic affairs adviser, was badly wounded when a bomb hidden in a motorized rickshaw exploded as his car passed in Jalalabad and also left six other people with injuries. His car was destroyed, and Mr. Sabawoon was flown to Kabul by air ambulance, officials said.

¶ In eastern Paktika Province, a roadside bomb exploded on a highway on Monday, killing four Afghan police officers on patrol. Residents said the intended targets had been the police chief and governor of Yousef Khail District, but officials said they were not present.

At the United Nations, the Security Council committee in charge of monitoring sanctions against members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban announced the completion of the first complete review of the nearly 500 names put on the list since it was established in 2001.

The names of about 35 people or organizations linked to Al Qaeda have been removed, along with those of 10 people with the Taliban. Those removed include eight who had died, said Thomas Mayr-Harting, the ambassador to the United Nations from Austria, which runs the committee.

“It is unrealistic to expect deep movements on the remaining list because everyone has been reviewed,” the ambassador said, with 311 entries for Al Qaeda and 132 for the Taliban remaining.

The list has become a focus of reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan because members of the Taliban still listed have demanded that they come off as part of the process. President Karzai has suggested that all Taliban names be removed, but has not made any formal request. Those on the blacklist are subject to a travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo.

An Afghan employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Khost Province, and Neil MacFarquhar from the United Nations.

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