In the most serious strike at Afghanistan’s security apparatus since the presidential election two weeks ago, a suicide bomber Wednesday killed the country’s deputy intelligence chief and at least 22 other people.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place outside a mosque in Laghman province about 60 miles east of the capital, Kabul.
Authorities said the blast occurred as the intelligence official, Abdullah Laghmani, and his entourage were leaving the mosque where they had gone to pray during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Two senior provincial officials were reported to be among the dead.
The attack came amid rising tensions over the outcome of the Aug. 20 vote. The latest count, released Wednesday, put President Hamid Karzai in the lead with 47% -- close to an absolute majority, but not enough as yet to avoid a runoff with his main rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Authorities have released the count from about 60% of polling stations.
Most of the vote-rigging allegations that have emerged have been aimed at Karzai and his supporters. Investigating the complaints could take weeks.
Wednesday’s explosion in the town of Mehtar Lam wrecked several vehicles and damaged the mosque that the Afghan officials were leaving. American troops deployed in the area swiftly cordoned off the scene.
The attack was evidence of the insurgents’ ability to target even heavily guarded senior officials. Nearly all top figures in the central and provincial governments are at risk of assassination, part of what Western officials say is a Taliban strategy to erode faith in Afghan authorities’ ability to govern.
Those killed in the explosion included a top aide to the Laghman governor and two of the intelligence official’s bodyguards. As is common in such attacks, most of the casualties were believed to have been civilians, about 18 in all.
Afghanistan’s main intelligence service, the National Directorate for Security, is a prime target for insurgents. Afghan news reports say that an intelligence officer was abducted and hanged this week in Baghlan province.
The increasing violence has engulfed not only Afghan civilians and authorities, but also Western troops. American forces suffered their bloodiest months of the nearly 8-year-old conflict in July and August.
A request for additional U.S. troops is expected soon from Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who assumed command of American and other Western forces in Afghanistan in mid-June.