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Suicide Bomber Kills 23 in Northern Afghanistan

A suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of a wedding party in Afghanistan's northern Samangan province Saturday, killing a regional commander and 22 other people.

One of those killed in the explosion was commander Ahmad Khan Samangani, a member of parliament who once fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and also fought against the Taliban.

An eyewitness, who gave his name only as Hussen, described the attack.

He says he was in the wedding reception hall with arriving guests when there was a loud explosion. He says he fell to the ground, and does not know what happened after that.

The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, but the group has assassinated minority leaders before.

The provincial police chief, General Khalil Andarabi, said the explosion was so powerful it was hard to determine exactly how many people had died.

"It was a very brutal explosion, and it is difficult to identify who was killed. Only after the bodies of the wounded are taken to Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif will they be able to tell who is dead,” said he.

President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned Saturday’s attack in the northern provincial capital of Aybak.

Also killed was General Mohammed Khan, the province’s national security director. Another 40 people were wounded.

The latest killing came one day after the assassination of a leading women’s rights official, Hanifa Sadi. She and her husband were killed when a magnetic bomb exploded in their vehicle.

Karzai lashed out at the killing, saying in a statement Saturday that targeting women was against Islamic teachings. He described those responsible for the attack as “weak” and “cowardly," and ordered an investigation into the incident.

Amnesty International’s Horia Mosadiq said the attack further threatened women’s rights.

She said Hanifa Safi was clearly a target of individuals or groups determined to undermine the fragile gains made in furthering women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Gran Hewad of the Afghan Analysts Network said all government officials are considered targets by the Taliban.

“At this stage, according to the directions and the conduct and the codes that the Taliban have for their attacks and fight and war, those who are working the government, with the 'puppet' government, and with the foreigners are [potential targets].”

Hewad said it is not clear what tactics the Taliban will use once international combat forces leave the country in 2014.

Samangani was celebrating his daughter’s marriage when the bomb went off. The commander was an ethnic Uzbek, one of several ethnic factions that make up Afghanistan.

The United States Embassy in Kabul also condemned the bombing - the latest in a long list of attacks that have left civilians, international troops and Afghan forces dead.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.