KABUL, Afghanistan – An anti-Taliban militia leader was the apparent target of a suicide bombing Sunday in southern Afghanistan that left at least 80 people dead and dozens injured, authorities said.
The bombing at a dogfighting match just outside Kandahar was thought to have been the deadliest single suicide attack since the Taliban movement was driven from power more than six years ago.
Authorities said the apparent target was Abdul Hakim Jan, who was killed in the explosion. Some casualties might have been caused when Jan’s bodyguards opened fire after the blast although there were no assailants in sight, witnesses said.
A tightly packed crowd of hundreds of men and boys had gathered in a dirt field on the city’s edge to watch the dogfight when the bomber struck.
Dogfighting is popular in Afghanistan. It was banned under the Taliban but made a comeback after the movement was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Witnesses said the attack occurred without warning. “Suddenly a big explosion went off,” said Mohammed Qasim, 23. Police vehicles parked nearby were incinerated, Qasim said.
Jan, a former provincial police chief, had defied the Taliban as the austere Islamist movement rose to prominence in the 1990s. More recently, he led a locally recruited force that worked in concert with Afghan police and soldiers. His fighters operated in Arghandab, an area just north of Kandahar seized by the Taliban last year, then recaptured by Afghan and NATO troops.
Kandahar’s governor, Asadullah Khalid, said 80 people had been killed. A spokesman for the Health Ministry said dozens of others were hurt, many seriously.
Hospitals were overwhelmed, and Afghan police and soldiers donated blood for the injured.
Khalid blamed the attack on “the enemies of Afghanistan,” a phrase authorities use to describe the Taliban.
Purported spokesmen for the militia denied the bombing.
Suicide bombings in Afghanistan have been creeping up and last year reached more than 140.