A Taliban suicide bomber posing as a messenger of peace blew himself up near Afghanistan's newly appointed intelligence chief on Thursday, seriously wounding him, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Asadullah Khalid — the fifth such assassination attempt on his life in as many years, the officials added.
"Thank God, he's OK. It's positive," Afghan President Hamid Karzai told reporters outside a medical facility run by the National Directorate of Security where Khalid had surgery. "Now there is hope that he'll get healthy again."
Karzai said Khalid would be sent elsewhere for further treatment, implying that he could be transferred outside the country.
The attempted assassination of the nation's top intelligence official came just as Karzai described the U.S.-led military coalition as partly responsible for instability in Afghanistan.
"Part of the insecurity is coming to us from the structures that NATO and America created in Afghanistan," Karzai told NBC News in an interview broadcast on Thursday. Terrorism will not be defeated "by attacking Afghan villages and Afghan homes," he said.
Shafiqullah Tahiri, a spokesman for the intelligence service, said that the bomber had used the false peace offer as a ruse to close in on the intelligence chief.
The bombing was reminiscent of the September 2011 killing of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who at the time was the leader of a government-appointed peace council seeking reconciliation with militants. In that attack, an insurgent posing as a Taliban peace envoy detonated a bomb that was hidden in his turban as he met Rabbani at his home in Kabul.
5th assassination attempt against Khalid
Khalid, in his early 40s, suffered serious injuries to his stomach and lower part of the body when the bomb exploded at his guest house as he was receiving a visitor, a senior Afghan official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information. The intelligence chief had used the house for private meetings he preferred not to hold at his agency's official compound, he added.
The bomber passed through at least one check without the explosives being discovered, the official said. The house was not as heavily guarded as the agency's compound.
Shuja Momuzai, 31, who manages a house a couple doors from Khalid's guest house, said he heard an explosion shortly after 3 p.m., after which he saw Khalid being taken away. People in the neighbourhood knew Khalid used the house, he said, which had at least two perimeter walls.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the intelligence chief was the target of a suicide bombing carried out by an attacker named Hafez Mohammad.
Khalid, who was appointed to head the intelligence service in September, comes from the Pashtun ethnic group and has served as governor of restive Ghazni province in the east and Kandahar province in the south. He is also Afghanistan's former minister of tribal and border affairs.
He says he first eluded an assassin in 2006, and bombers had targeted him three times since, before Thursday's attack.
Karzai, in his interview, said that he was not convinced that al-Qaeda "has a presence in Afghanistan."
While weakened in recent years, the group, whose Sept. 11 attacks drew America into its longest war, appears to have preserved at least limited means of regenerating inside Afghanistan as U.S. influence in the country wanes. For years the main target of U.S.-led forces has been the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan and protected al-Qaeda before the U.S. invasion 11 years ago. But the strategic goal is to prevent al-Qaeda from again finding sanctuary in Afghanistan from which to launch attacks on the U.S.
"I don't even know if al-Qaeda exists as an organization as it is being spoken about," Karzai said. "So all we know is that we have insecurity."