Mosque bomb kills 20, including Afghan governor

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A bomb tore through an Afghan mosque killing an outspoken governor and 19 other people on Friday in the latest attack reflecting growing violence in the north of the country.

Mohammad Omar, who was governor of Kunduz, one of the regions of northern Afghanistan most troubled by Taliban insurgents, was killed by a bomb in the town of Taluqan in his home province of Takhar.

"We have 20 people martyred and 15 others injured. The dead include the governor," interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP, updating an initial death toll of 15 given by police.

Authorities were investigating whether the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber or was a planted device, the spokesman said.

Although there was no claim of responsibility, suspicion fell on Islamist groups fighting the Western-backed Afghan government for the last nine years.

The Kunduz provincial governor had repeatedly warned that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were expanding in Kunduz and had called for security reinforcements.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, saying that killing a man such as Omar in a mosque and other Muslims at worship was "a crime against humanity and the sacred religion of Islam".

Mohammad Hassan Baseej, a doctor at the local hospital, said 33 people were admitted with injuries after the attack.

Violence has increased in recent years in the north, which was once considered relatively peaceful compared to Taliban flashpoints in the east and south of the country.

In Kandahar, the largest city in the south and the Taliban's former capital, cleric Mawlawi Mohammad was shot dead while praying in a mosque on the weekly Muslim holy day, said the head of the local ulema council, Hekmatullah Hekmat.

More than 152,000 US-led NATO troops are deployed in Afghanistan, focused primarily on the south, trying to reverse the Taliban insurrection and shore up Karzai's government.

NATO lost three soldiers in attacks on Friday, one of them British, bringing the number of foreign troops killed to 567 so far this year -- already the deadliest on record since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

In eastern Afghanistan, police said NATO helicopters had killed six community police on Friday. The military said it was sending a team to investigate.

Dozens of Afghans demonstrated in the eastern city of Khost alleging Western military helicopters killed the officers. Police sought to calm their anger.

A unit of community police, a militia-style force recently launched to fight Taliban insurgents in remote villages, opened fire on a NATO helicopter, Khost provincial police chief Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai told the crowd.

"The helicopter returned and dropped bombs on them and killed six Arbakis (community police)," he added.

From its headquarters in Kabul the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said its helicopters killed five men armed with weapons.

"The ISAF helicopters identified a group of individuals with weapons moving from a previously identified enemy position near Sinzai Kalay village.

"As a result of this operation, ISAF is aware of civilian casualty allegations and ISAF Joint Command is sending a joint incident assessment team to look into those allegations."

Friendly fire incidents and the deaths of civilians during foreign military operations are incendiary issues in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are waging a nine-year uprising against the Western-backed government.

The insurgency was launched months after the Taliban fell from power and has gathered pace every year since 2001.

Karzai on Thursday inaugurated a peace council charged with brokering an end to the war, amid mounting reports of secret peace talks.

The Taliban has said publicly it will not enter into dialogue with the government until all foreign troops leave the country and on Thursday -- the ninth anniversary of the conflict -- announced its jihad was as strong as ever.

© 2010 AFP

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