Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied responsibility for the assault.
A bomber set off explosives after wading into a crowd of dignitaries at a wedding on Saturday in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 19 people, including a prominent Afghan lawmaker who was celebrating the marriage of his daughter, Afghan officials said.
Leaders from the smaller ethnic groups that dominate Afghanistan’s north have repeatedly been singled out for violent attacks in recent years, and the assassinations have fueled concerns that Afghanistan could splinter along ethnic lines as the American-led coalition pulls back in coming years.
The lawmaker, Ahmad Khan Samangani — the likely target of Saturday’s bombing — was a leading member of Afghanistan’s Uzbek ethnic group. He first rose to prominence fighting the Soviet Union during its occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s; he then fought the Taliban in the 1990s. He was elected to Parliament last year from Samangan Province, where the attack took place.
The dead included at least five other former commanders from the old Northern Alliance, a loose confederation of Afghanistan’s smaller ethnic groups — Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras — that in the 1990s fought the Taliban, which is almost entirely composed of ethnic Pashtuns from the south and east.
Also killed was Muhammad Khan, the provincial chief of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. One of the tasks of the agency is to determine who is behind such attacks, and Mr. Khan’s death is likely to slow the investigation of the bombing, officials said.
The police chief for western Afghanistan, Saeed Ahmad Sameh, was also killed, officials said.
While suspicion about the attack at first fell on the Taliban — they have repeatedly used martyrdom seeking mujahideen to kill prominent politicians and security officials from across the country’s ethnic spectrum — many officials cautioned that judgment should be withheld until the investigation had run its course.
The Taliban, who often take responsibility for successful assassinations, denied any role in the attack — a surprising statement given the fierce anti-Taliban credentials of Mr. Samangani and some of the other guests.
The Taliban’s denial raised the prospect that the bombing could have been the result of an internecine feud among northerners, though officials said they had no evidence of that.
Gen. Mohammad Khalil Andarabi, the police chief of Samangan, said the bomber arrived early Saturday at the wedding hall in Aybak, the capital of Samangan.
The bomber appeared to have entered with a group of politicians and prominent Afghans from Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh Province, and then detonated his explosives as Mr. Samangani was greeting the guests, General Andarabi said.
He could not say whether the bomber had traveled with the guests from Mazar-i-Sharif or simply slipped in among them as they entered the hall.
The blast was powerful, according to the police chief and witnesses. The death toll stood at 19 as of noon Saturday, with 50 people wounded. General Andarabi said the toll could rise.
Mohammad Nawab Sherzai, the criminal investigations director in Aybak who was helping to provide security for the wedding, said most of the guests had already moved to the upper floors of the hall when the explosion occurred.
“It was a big explosion,” Mr. Sherzai was quoted as saying in a report by The Associated Press. “There were bloody bodies all around the first floor. The explosion was so strong. There were people even on the third floor who were wounded. Everybody was running in different directions.”
Tags: Deadly, blast, kills, AT-LEAST, 22+, including, Prominent, Afghan, Lawmaker, &, The, police, chief, for, western, Afghanistan,
Location: Samangan, Afghanistan (load item map)
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