KABUL, Afghanistan ‚?? A suicide bomber detonated explosives outside a mosque packed with senior regional officials in northern Afghanistan on a major Muslim holiday Friday, killing 41 people. The officials escaped unhurt, and many of the dead were soldiers and police.
The attack was the latest in a series of deadly strikes in recent weeks against Afghan army, police and government officials. The choice of targets suggests that the insurgents are increasingly turning against Afghan authorities and security forces now that NATO is drawing down toward a final withdrawal of foreign combat troops in 2014.
Deaths of Afghan police and soldiers are higher this year than last year, according army spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zaher Azimi. Although the Taliban have claimed responsibility for a parallel sharp increase in attacks by Afghan servicemen on their foreign colleagues, the overall number of coalition deaths has been noticeably lower than last year.
Health Minister Soraya Dalil said 41 people were killed and 56 wounded in Friday‚??s attack.
At least 14 civilians were among the dead, just two days after Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar urged his fighters to ‚??pay full attention to the prevention of civilian casualties‚?Ě because he said the enemy was trying to blame them on the insurgents. Taliban attacks account for the vast majority of civilian casualties in the war, according to the U.N.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the suicide bombing outside the mosque. The attack took place in the town of Maymana, capital of northern Faryab province, where the Taliban and allied militant groups have been active far from their traditional strongholds in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
The bomber struck after top provincial officials, including the governor and the police chief, had assembled inside the mosque to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday. The blast went off in the middle of a large crowd that included police and soldiers waiting for the dignitaries to remerge.