KABUL, Afghanistan -- A bomb placed in a mosque detonated during morning prayers Tuesday, killing the governor of eastern Logar province, Afghan officials said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the assassination of the governor, Arsallah Jamal, but suspicion fell on the Taliban. The group has been targeting Afghan officials, police, military personnel and NATO troops in the run-up to late 2014, when foreign combat troops are scheduled to leave the country.
The bombing took place at around 9 a.m. as the governor gave a speech to hundreds of people attending prayers for Eid al-Adha -- one of the year’s most important Islamic holidays, marking the end of the Hajj pilgrimage -- said Hasibullah Stanikzai, Jamal’s secretary.
The explosives were placed under the lectern below the microphone and were detonated by remote control as Jamal gave his speech, said Din Mohammad Darwish, the governor’s spokesman.
In addition to killing Jamal, the blast wounded 15 people, including the mosque’s mullah, officials said.
The incident came a week after Jamal confirmed the arrest of Latifullah Mehsud, an alleged senior aide to Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, by U.S. forces as he traveled in a vehicle in Logar. Mehsud is a common Afghan name, and the two are not related.
The governor had recently initiated a major campaign against militants, drug traffickers, land grabbers and other groups engaged in illegal activities in Logar, Darwish said. His assassins could have been from among these groups, he added.
Jamal, 47, was a close ally of President Hamid Karzai, working as his campaign manager during the 2009 presidential elections and providing expertise on rural development. He was previously the governor of eastern Khost province. Jamal was transferred to Logar about seven months ago. He had survived a number of previous assassination attempts.
The killing in the main mosque of Pul-i-Alam, the capital of eastern Logar province is the latest in a series of targeted killings designed to intimidate rivals and spread fear in advance of a general election scheduled for April 5, which the Taliban has condemned as a sham.
A little more than a month ago, a district governor in northern Kunduz province was killed in a similar attack. In mid-September, the election commission head from the same province was shot and killed after warning that violence threatened the election’s legitimacy.
In an Eid message late Sunday, reclusive Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar urged militants to step up their fight against the government.
"My advice to all mujahideen is to stand up to the enemy firmer than before," he said in his message, using a term denoting Muslim holy fighters. He also condemned as “documents of slavery” a proposed security pact between the United States and Afghanistan aimed at determining how many foreign troops remain in the country after 2014.
Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul, and Magnier reported from New Delhi.