|Afghan police officer, right, stands inside Kandahar mosque after blast |
An explosion has ripped through a mosque in Afghanistan, leaving at least 20 people dead and dozens wounded. Officials say a suicide bomber blew himself up during the funeral of a murdered anti-Taleban cleric.
The blast occurred when the mosque in the southern city of Kandahar was packed with mourners at the funeral of Mullah Abdul Fayaz, who was killed Sunday by suspected Taleban gunmen.
Mr. Fayaz was a prominent pro-government cleric and last week had condemned the Taleban insurgency in a speech to more than 500 religious leaders.
The local governor in Kandahar is quoted as saying the suicide bomber was carrying documents indicating he was an Arab linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network, and not from Afghanistan.
The police chief of the capital, Kabul, was among those killed in Wednesday's bombing. Minister of Internal Affairs Ali Jalali said the attack underscored foreign efforts to poison the country's budding democracy.
"It's a wake up call for Afghanistan," he said. "As the country tries to reconstruct and heal itself the enemies of Afghanistan do not want to see this country emerge from the nightmare of more than two decades of war."
The bombing was the deadliest so far this year and one of the worst since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taleban regime in 2001.
After a winter lull, insurgents have stepped up their attacks in recent weeks with a series of high profile assassinations, bombings and missile strikes.
NATO spokeswoman Karen Tissot Van Patot told reporters international forces would not be intimidated by terrorist acts.
"These events serve to remind us all that we must remain determined and coordinated to thwart those who would conspire to disrupt the peace and security we are all trying to maintain," she said.
International observers say the stakes are increasingly high with national parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
Election organizers say security, especially in the south, remains a significant challenge to any successful vote.
The United States and NATO are expected to expand their troop presence in the months leading up to the election.