KABUL, AFGHANISTAN: A suicide bomber blew himself up among guests at a wedding hall Saturday in northern Afghanistan, killing 23 people, including a prominent ex-Uzbek warlord turned lawmaker who was the father of the bride.
The attack was the latest to target top figures from the country’s minority groups and dealt a blow to efforts to unify ethnic factions amid growing concerns that the country could descend into civil war after foreign combat troops withdraw in 2014.
Ahmad Khan Samangani, an ethnic Uzbek who commanded forces fighting the Soviets in the 1980s and later became a member of parliament, was welcoming guests to his daughter’s wedding Saturday morning when the blast ripped through the building in Aybak, the capital of Samangan province.
Three Afghan security force officials were among those killed. About 60 other people, including government officials, were wounded in the attack, which left the wedding hall’s black-and-white tile floor covered with shattered glass, blood and debris.
The bride and groom survived, but never got the chance to exchange vows.
It was the latest in a string of deadly attacks around the country that threaten to undermine international hopes of an orderly handover to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. In one of the worst, Taliban fighters attacked a lakeside hotel north of Kabul on June 22, killing 18 people. Two days earlier, a suicide bomber killed 21 people, including three U.S. soldiers, in the eastern city of Khost.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday’s attack.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a phone call that the Taliban neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the attack. In announcing their spring offensive on May 2, the Taliban said they would continue to target those who back the Karzai government and the U.S.-led international military coalition.
Jan Kubis, the United Nation’s top official in Afghanistan, said the U.N. had documented an increase in the number of government and elected officials who have been targeted by militants in the past six months. He did not provide statistics, but two government officials were assassinated on Friday — the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs director in Laghman province and the mayor of Shindand district in Herat province.
“Such inhumane brutality that is against the teachings of Islam and against international law should stop immediately,” Kubis said in a statement.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing, saying it was “carried out by the enemies of Afghanistan.” He ordered a team from Kabul to fly to the area to investigate.