KABUL, Afghanistan – Four suicide bombers struck the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Saturday evening, killing at least 31 people and destroying houses and shops, according to government and news reports.
Officials said the bombs exploded near a hotel, an intersection and at the city’s main prison, possibly in an attempt to free Taliban militants. Other reports indicated that a large blast rattled the prison and was followed by a barrage of rockets.
“There were four suicide bombers, including two in cars, and all the attacks happened within the city about 7:30 p.m.,” Mohammad Pashtun, chief of criminal investigations for Kandahar province, told the Los Angeles Times by telephone. “Thirty-one people have been killed and at least 45 are wounded. They are all civilians.”
Kandahar is a Taliban stronghold and a crucial test for NATO forces, including many of the 30,000 U.S. troops recently called up by President Barack Obama.
The U.S. and NATO said last week that a wide-scale military operation would begin this year to force the militants from the city and province. The campaign would follow the recent defeat of the Taliban in neighboring Helmand province in a Marine-led offensive.
President Hamid Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, told Reuters news agency that Saturday’s attack may have been an attempt to free inmates from the prison. Taliban fighters struck the prison in 2008, freeing almost 900 inmates, including hundreds of suspected militants.
“The main target was the prison. The prison is very well guarded,” he said. “It was a very big explosion.”