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Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The front-runner for the Afghan presidency narrowly escaped assassination Friday when two bombs struck his convoy as it traveled between campaign events in the capital, underscoring the country’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of this year.

The candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, was unharmed and defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign, calmly telling an election rally that “the aim of this incident was to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny.”

But it was a close call for a man who many in the West hope will guide Afghanistan through a particularly difficult transition, provide a steadier hand than the mercurial outgoing President Hamid Karzai and sign a security pact to allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country for another two years.

At least 10 people, including three in Abdullah’s entourage, were killed and dozens were wounded in the attack, which heavily damaged the front of his armored car, destroyed several vehicles and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government. Karzai blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

The attack took place eight days before a runoff in which Afghans are to choose a new leader. The Taliban have recently staged a series of high-profile bombings this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first attack targeting a candidate – as opposed to their offices and workers – since campaigning began earlier this year.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping a residual U.S. force of trainers and advisers in the country after 2014. Both candidates in the June 14 runoff say they will sign the pact, which Karzai has refused to do. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the leading contender in the runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. But Gul Agha Hashim, Kabul’s criminal investigation chief, said the first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot and the second by a suicide car bomber.

Health Minister Suraya Dalil told The Associated Press that 10 people were killed and 37 wounded. Three of those killed were a driver and two were bodyguards in another car in Abdullah’s convoy, according to Fazel Sangcharaki, a spokesman for the candidate.

His election opponent, Ahmadzai, condemned the attack.

“The people behind this are undoubtedly the enemies of this country who are taking the lives of innocents,” Ahmadzai said. “These people don’t want Afghanistan to be seen as a democratic country.”

“Abdullah is my opponent, but I would not want any harm to come to him,” he told the AP during a visit to the southern city of Kandahar. “I want it to be purely the people’s choice whom they want to be their next leader.”

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” the candidate declared after Friday’s attack.

Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The front-runner for the Afghan presidency narrowly escaped assassination Friday when two bombs struck his convoy as it traveled between campaign events in the capital, underscoring the country’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of this year.

The candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, was unharmed and defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign, calmly telling an election rally that “the aim of this incident was to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny.”

But it was a close call for a man who many in the West hope will guide Afghanistan through a particularly difficult transition, provide a steadier hand than the mercurial outgoing President Hamid Karzai and sign a security pact to allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country for another two years.

At least 10 people, including three in Abdullah’s entourage, were killed and dozens were wounded in the attack, which heavily damaged the front of his armored car, destroyed several vehicles and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government. Karzai blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

The attack took place eight days before a runoff in which Afghans are to choose a new leader. The Taliban have recently staged a series of high-profile bombings this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first attack targeting a candidate – as opposed to their offices and workers – since campaigning began earlier this year.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping a residual U.S. force of trainers and advisers in the country after 2014. Both candidates in the June 14 runoff say they will sign the pact, which Karzai has refused to do. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the leading contender in the runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. But Gul Agha Hashim, Kabul’s criminal investigation chief, said the first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot and the second by a suicide car bomber.

Health Minister Suraya Dalil told The Associated Press that 10 people were killed and 37 wounded. Three of those killed were a driver and two were bodyguards in another car in Abdullah’s convoy, according to Fazel Sangcharaki, a spokesman for the candidate.

His election opponent, Ahmadzai, condemned the attack.

“The people behind this are undoubtedly the enemies of this country who are taking the lives of innocents,” Ahmadzai said. “These people don’t want Afghanistan to be seen as a democratic country.”

“Abdullah is my opponent, but I would not want any harm to come to him,” he told the AP during a visit to the southern city of Kandahar. “I want it to be purely the people’s choice whom they want to be their next leader.”

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” the candidate declared after Friday’s attack.

Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The front-runner for the Afghan presidency narrowly escaped assassination Friday when two bombs struck his convoy as it traveled between campaign events in the capital, underscoring the country’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of this year.

The candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, was unharmed and defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign, calmly telling an election rally that “the aim of this incident was to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny.”

But it was a close call for a man who many in the West hope will guide Afghanistan through a particularly difficult transition, provide a steadier hand than the mercurial outgoing President Hamid Karzai and sign a security pact to allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country for another two years.

At least 10 people, including three in Abdullah’s entourage, were killed and dozens were wounded in the attack, which heavily damaged the front of his armored car, destroyed several vehicles and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government. Karzai blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

The attack took place eight days before a runoff in which Afghans are to choose a new leader. The Taliban have recently staged a series of high-profile bombings this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first attack targeting a candidate – as opposed to their offices and workers – since campaigning began earlier this year.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping a residual U.S. force of trainers and advisers in the country after 2014. Both candidates in the June 14 runoff say they will sign the pact, which Karzai has refused to do. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the leading contender in the runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. But Gul Agha Hashim, Kabul’s criminal investigation chief, said the first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot and the second by a suicide car bomber.

Health Minister Suraya Dalil told The Associated Press that 10 people were killed and 37 wounded. Three of those killed were a driver and two were bodyguards in another car in Abdullah’s convoy, according to Fazel Sangcharaki, a spokesman for the candidate.

His election opponent, Ahmadzai, condemned the attack.

“The people behind this are undoubtedly the enemies of this country who are taking the lives of innocents,” Ahmadzai said. “These people don’t want Afghanistan to be seen as a democratic country.”

“Abdullah is my opponent, but I would not want any harm to come to him,” he told the AP during a visit to the southern city of Kandahar. “I want it to be purely the people’s choice whom they want to be their next leader.”

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” the candidate declared after Friday’s attack.

Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The front-runner for the Afghan presidency narrowly escaped assassination Friday when two bombs struck his convoy as it traveled between campaign events in the capital, underscoring the country’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of this year.

The candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, was unharmed and defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign, calmly telling an election rally that “the aim of this incident was to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny.”

But it was a close call for a man who many in the West hope will guide Afghanistan through a particularly difficult transition, provide a steadier hand than the mercurial outgoing President Hamid Karzai and sign a security pact to allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country for another two years.

At least 10 people, including three in Abdullah’s entourage, were killed and dozens were wounded in the attack, which heavily damaged the front of his armored car, destroyed several vehicles and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government. Karzai blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

The attack took place eight days before a runoff in which Afghans are to choose a new leader. The Taliban have recently staged a series of high-profile bombings this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first attack targeting a candidate – as opposed to their offices and workers – since campaigning began earlier this year.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping a residual U.S. force of trainers and advisers in the country after 2014. Both candidates in the June 14 runoff say they will sign the pact, which Karzai has refused to do. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the leading contender in the runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. But Gul Agha Hashim, Kabul’s criminal investigation chief, said the first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot and the second by a suicide car bomber.

Health Minister Suraya Dalil told The Associated Press that 10 people were killed and 37 wounded. Three of those killed were a driver and two were bodyguards in another car in Abdullah’s convoy, according to Fazel Sangcharaki, a spokesman for the candidate.

His election opponent, Ahmadzai, condemned the attack.

“The people behind this are undoubtedly the enemies of this country who are taking the lives of innocents,” Ahmadzai said. “These people don’t want Afghanistan to be seen as a democratic country.”

“Abdullah is my opponent, but I would not want any harm to come to him,” he told the AP during a visit to the southern city of Kandahar. “I want it to be purely the people’s choice whom they want to be their next leader.”

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” the candidate declared after Friday’s attack.

Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The front-runner for the Afghan presidency narrowly escaped assassination Friday when two bombs struck his convoy as it traveled between campaign events in the capital, underscoring the country’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of this year.

The candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, was unharmed and defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign, calmly telling an election rally that “the aim of this incident was to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny.”

But it was a close call for a man who many in the West hope will guide Afghanistan through a particularly difficult transition, provide a steadier hand than the mercurial outgoing President Hamid Karzai and sign a security pact to allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country for another two years.

At least 10 people, including three in Abdullah’s entourage, were killed and dozens were wounded in the attack, which heavily damaged the front of his armored car, destroyed several vehicles and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government. Karzai blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

The attack took place eight days before a runoff in which Afghans are to choose a new leader. The Taliban have recently staged a series of high-profile bombings this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first attack targeting a candidate – as opposed to their offices and workers – since campaigning began earlier this year.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping a residual U.S. force of trainers and advisers in the country after 2014. Both candidates in the June 14 runoff say they will sign the pact, which Karzai has refused to do. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the leading contender in the runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. But Gul Agha Hashim, Kabul’s criminal investigation chief, said the first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot and the second by a suicide car bomber.

Health Minister Suraya Dalil told The Associated Press that 10 people were killed and 37 wounded. Three of those killed were a driver and two were bodyguards in another car in Abdullah’s convoy, according to Fazel Sangcharaki, a spokesman for the candidate.

His election opponent, Ahmadzai, condemned the attack.

“The people behind this are undoubtedly the enemies of this country who are taking the lives of innocents,” Ahmadzai said. “These people don’t want Afghanistan to be seen as a democratic country.”

“Abdullah is my opponent, but I would not want any harm to come to him,” he told the AP during a visit to the southern city of Kandahar. “I want it to be purely the people’s choice whom they want to be their next leader.”

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” the candidate declared after Friday’s attack.

Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The front-runner for the Afghan presidency narrowly escaped assassination Friday when two bombs struck his convoy as it traveled between campaign events in the capital, underscoring the country’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of this year.

The candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, was unharmed and defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign, calmly telling an election rally that “the aim of this incident was to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny.”

But it was a close call for a man who many in the West hope will guide Afghanistan through a particularly difficult transition, provide a steadier hand than the mercurial outgoing President Hamid Karzai and sign a security pact to allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country for another two years.

At least 10 people, including three in Abdullah’s entourage, were killed and dozens were wounded in the attack, which heavily damaged the front of his armored car, destroyed several vehicles and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government. Karzai blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

The attack took place eight days before a runoff in which Afghans are to choose a new leader. The Taliban have recently staged a series of high-profile bombings this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first attack targeting a candidate – as opposed to their offices and workers – since campaigning began earlier this year.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping a residual U.S. force of trainers and advisers in the country after 2014. Both candidates in the June 14 runoff say they will sign the pact, which Karzai has refused to do. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the leading contender in the runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. But Gul Agha Hashim, Kabul’s criminal investigation chief, said the first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot and the second by a suicide car bomber.

Health Minister Suraya Dalil told The Associated Press that 10 people were killed and 37 wounded. Three of those killed were a driver and two were bodyguards in another car in Abdullah’s convoy, according to Fazel Sangcharaki, a spokesman for the candidate.

His election opponent, Ahmadzai, condemned the attack.

“The people behind this are undoubtedly the enemies of this country who are taking the lives of innocents,” Ahmadzai said. “These people don’t want Afghanistan to be seen as a democratic country.”

“Abdullah is my opponent, but I would not want any harm to come to him,” he told the AP during a visit to the southern city of Kandahar. “I want it to be purely the people’s choice whom they want to be their next leader.”

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” the candidate declared after Friday’s attack.

Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The front-runner for the Afghan presidency narrowly escaped assassination Friday when two bombs struck his convoy as it traveled between campaign events in the capital, underscoring the country’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of this year.

The candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, was unharmed and defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign, calmly telling an election rally that “the aim of this incident was to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny.”

But it was a close call for a man who many in the West hope will guide Afghanistan through a particularly difficult transition, provide a steadier hand than the mercurial outgoing President Hamid Karzai and sign a security pact to allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country for another two years.

At least 10 people, including three in Abdullah’s entourage, were killed and dozens were wounded in the attack, which heavily damaged the front of his armored car, destroyed several vehicles and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government. Karzai blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

The attack took place eight days before a runoff in which Afghans are to choose a new leader. The Taliban have recently staged a series of high-profile bombings this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first attack targeting a candidate – as opposed to their offices and workers – since campaigning began earlier this year.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping a residual U.S. force of trainers and advisers in the country after 2014. Both candidates in the June 14 runoff say they will sign the pact, which Karzai has refused to do. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the leading contender in the runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. But Gul Agha Hashim, Kabul’s criminal investigation chief, said the first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot and the second by a suicide car bomber.

Health Minister Suraya Dalil told The Associated Press that 10 people were killed and 37 wounded. Three of those killed were a driver and two were bodyguards in another car in Abdullah’s convoy, according to Fazel Sangcharaki, a spokesman for the candidate.

His election opponent, Ahmadzai, condemned the attack.

“The people behind this are undoubtedly the enemies of this country who are taking the lives of innocents,” Ahmadzai said. “These people don’t want Afghanistan to be seen as a democratic country.”

“Abdullah is my opponent, but I would not want any harm to come to him,” he told the AP during a visit to the southern city of Kandahar. “I want it to be purely the people’s choice whom they want to be their next leader.”

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” the candidate declared after Friday’s attack.

Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The front-runner for the Afghan presidency narrowly escaped assassination Friday when two bombs struck his convoy as it traveled between campaign events in the capital, underscoring the country’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of this year.

The candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, was unharmed and defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign, calmly telling an election rally that “the aim of this incident was to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny.”

But it was a close call for a man who many in the West hope will guide Afghanistan through a particularly difficult transition, provide a steadier hand than the mercurial outgoing President Hamid Karzai and sign a security pact to allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country for another two years.

At least 10 people, including three in Abdullah’s entourage, were killed and dozens were wounded in the attack, which heavily damaged the front of his armored car, destroyed several vehicles and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government. Karzai blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

The attack took place eight days before a runoff in which Afghans are to choose a new leader. The Taliban have recently staged a series of high-profile bombings this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first attack targeting a candidate – as opposed to their offices and workers – since campaigning began earlier this year.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping a residual U.S. force of trainers and advisers in the country after 2014. Both candidates in the June 14 runoff say they will sign the pact, which Karzai has refused to do. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the leading contender in the runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. But Gul Agha Hashim, Kabul’s criminal investigation chief, said the first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot and the second by a suicide car bomber.

Health Minister Suraya Dalil told The Associated Press that 10 people were killed and 37 wounded. Three of those killed were a driver and two were bodyguards in another car in Abdullah’s convoy, according to Fazel Sangcharaki, a spokesman for the candidate.

His election opponent, Ahmadzai, condemned the attack.

“The people behind this are undoubtedly the enemies of this country who are taking the lives of innocents,” Ahmadzai said. “These people don’t want Afghanistan to be seen as a democratic country.”

“Abdullah is my opponent, but I would not want any harm to come to him,” he told the AP during a visit to the southern city of Kandahar. “I want it to be purely the people’s choice whom they want to be their next leader.”

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” the candidate declared after Friday’s attack.

Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The leading presidential candidate defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign after narrowly escaping an assassination attempt Friday that underscored Afghanistan’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops.

Two bombs struck Abdullah Abdullah’s convoy as it was traveling between campaign events in the capital. The candidate was unharmed but it was a close call. At least 10 people, including three in his entourage, were killed and dozens were wounded in the attack, which heavily damaged the front of Abdullah’s armored car, destroyed several vehicles and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

“The aim of this incident is to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny,” Abdullah, 53, calmly told a rally at a Kabul hotel. “We will continue with our election campaign as usual, and no one can separate us from our people with these types of plots.”

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government.

The bombings happened eight days before a runoff in which Afghans are to choose a new leader to replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban have staged a series of high-profile attacks this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first direct attack on a candidate, as earlier ones targeted only campaign offices and workers.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping about 10,000 U.S. troops in the country for another two years. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

Karzai condemned the bombings, saying they were staged by “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. But Gul Agha Hashim, Kabul’s criminal investigation chief, said the first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot and the second by a suicide car bomber.

Health Minister Suraya Dalil told The Associated Press that 10 people were killed and 37 wounded. Three of those killed were a driver and two were bodyguards in another car in Abdullah’s convoy, according to Fazel Sangcharaki, a spokesman for the candidate.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the front-runner for the June 14 runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent. Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, also was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Both Abdullah and Ahmadzai have pledged to sign a security pact with the U.S. that will allow American troops to remain in the country after 2014 in a training and advisory capacity. Karzai refused to sign it and has irritated Washington with his anti-American rhetoric.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” the candidate declared after Friday’s attack.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The leading presidential candidate defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign after narrowly escaping an assassination attempt Friday that underscored Afghanistan’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops.

Two bombs struck Abdullah Abdullah’s convoy as it was traveling between campaign events in the capital. The candidate was unharmed but it was a close call. At least 10 people, including three in his entourage, were killed and dozens were wounded in the attack, which heavily damaged the front of Abdullah’s armored car, destroyed several vehicles and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

“The aim of this incident is to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny,” Abdullah, 53, calmly told a rally at a Kabul hotel. “We will continue with our election campaign as usual, and no one can separate us from our people with these types of plots.”

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government.

The bombings happened eight days before a runoff in which Afghans are to choose a new leader to replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban have staged a series of high-profile attacks this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first direct attack on a candidate, as earlier ones targeted only campaign offices and workers.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping about 10,000 U.S. troops in the country for another two years. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

Karzai condemned the bombings, saying they were staged by “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. But Gul Agha Hashim, Kabul’s criminal investigation chief, said the first blast was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot and the second by a suicide car bomber.

Health Minister Suraya Dalil told The Associated Press that 10 people were killed and 37 wounded. Three of those killed were a driver and two were bodyguards in another car in Abdullah’s convoy, according to Fazel Sangcharaki, a spokesman for the candidate.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the front-runner for the June 14 runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent. Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, also was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Both Abdullah and Ahmadzai have pledged to sign a security pact with the U.S. that will allow American troops to remain in the country after 2014 in a training and advisory capacity. Karzai refused to sign it and has irritated Washington with his anti-American rhetoric.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” the candidate declared after Friday’s attack.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The leading presidential candidate defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign after narrowly escaping an assassination attempt Friday that underscored Afghanistan’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops.

Two bombs struck Abdullah Abdullah’s convoy as it was traveling between campaign events in the capital. The candidate was unharmed but it was a close call. Six civilians were killed and many more were wounded in the attack, which destroyed several cars and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

“The aim of this incident is to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny,” Abdullah, 53, calmly told a rally at a Kabul hotel. “We will continue with our election campaign as usual, and no one can separate us from our people with these types of plots.”

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government.

The bombings came eight days before a runoff vote in which Afghans are to choose a new leader to replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban have staged a series of high-profile attacks this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first direct attack on a candidate, as earlier ones targeted only campaign offices and workers.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping about 10,000 U.S. troops in the country for another two years. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

Karzai condemned the bombings, saying they were staged by “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. He said nobody in Abdullah’s entourage was killed. The ministry later issued a statement saying six civilians were killed and 22 were wounded.

But Kabul police chief Mohammed Zahir said both explosions were carried out by suicide bombers – the first was a driver who blew up a vehicle and the second was a suicide bomber on foot. Conflicting accounts are common in the chaotic immediate aftermath of attacks in Afghanistan.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the front-runner for the June 14 runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent. Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, also was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of this year. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Both Abdullah and Ahmadzai have pledged to sign a security pact with the U.S. that will allow American troops to remain in the country after 2014 in a training and advisory capacity. Karzai refused to sign it and has irritated Washington with his anti-American rhetoric.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” the candidate declared after Friday’s attack.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The leading Afghan presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt Friday when two bombs struck his convoy after a campaign event in the capital, a reminder of Afghanistan’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power with foreign combat troops set to withdraw by the end of the year.

Abdullah was unharmed and went on to speak at another campaign rally, but it was a close call. Six civilians were killed and many more were wounded in the attack, which destroyed several cars and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government.

“My car was the target,” Abdullah, 53, told Tolo TV. “It was a big conspiracy against me.”

At the rally, Abdullah told the crowd that his “vehicle was destroyed, but fortunately we escaped it unharmed. Unfortunately a number of our security guards were wounded in the incident, but thankfully their injuries are not so serious.”

The bombings came just over a week before a runoff vote in which Afghans are to choose a new leader to replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban have staged a series of high-profile attacks this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first direct attack on a candidate, as earlier ones targeted only campaign offices and workers.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping about 10,000 U.S. troops in the country for another two years. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

Karzai condemned the bombings, saying they were staged by “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. He said nobody in Abdullah’s entourage was killed. The ministry later issued a statement saying six civilians were killed and 22 were wounded.

But Kabul police chief Mohammed Zahir said both explosions were carried out by suicide bombers – the first was a driver who blew up a vehicle and the second was a suicide bomber on foot. Conflicting accounts are common in the chaotic immediate aftermath of attacks in Afghanistan.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the front-runner for the June 14 runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the first round of elections April 5, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent. Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, also was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah – who is half Pashtun and half Tajik – has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces. The U.S. and its coalition allies have tried to transform a small and ineffectual Afghan military and police into a huge force of 350,000, but huge obstacles remain. Large parts of the country have become practically inaccessible.

Both Abdullah and Ahmadzai have pledged to sign a security pact with the U.S. that will allow American troops to remain in the country after 2014 in a training and advisory capacity. Karzai refused to sign it and has irritated Washington with his anti-American rhetoric.

Although billions of dollars have poured into the country since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, much of this money landed in the pockets of corrupt businessmen and politicians, further widening the divide between rich and poor. The rampant poverty has helped keep alive the Taliban insurgency, which shows no sign of letting up.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban regime in 2001, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Abdullah previously served as a close aide to the late Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance rebel commander who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The enemy cannot defeat us or prevent the decision of the people of Afghanistan,” he declared after Friday’s attack.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The leading Afghan presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt Friday when two bombs struck his convoy after a campaign event in the capital, a reminder of Afghanistan’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power with foreign combat troops set to withdraw by the end of the year.

The attack killed six civilians but Abdullah was unharmed and went on to speak at a campaign rally. Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, it bore the hallmarks of Islamic militants fighting against the Western-backed government.

“My car was the target,” Abdullah told Tolo TV after the attack. “It was a big conspiracy against me.”

At the rally, Abdullah told the crowd that his “vehicle was destroyed, but fortunately we escaped it unharmed. Unfortunately a number of our security guards were wounded in the incident, but thankfully their injuries are not so serious.”

The attack came just over a week before a runoff vote in which Afghans are to choose a new leader to replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the balloting, though the first round on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first direct attack on one of the candidates, as earlier attacks targeted only campaign offices and workers.

Karzai condemned the attack, saying it was staged by “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said there was a suicide bombing followed by a roadside bomb. He said nobody in Abdullah’s entourage was killed. The ministry later issued a statement saying six civilians were killed and 22 were wounded.

But Kabul police chief Mohammed Zahir said both explosions were carried out by suicide bombers – the first was a driver who blew up a vehicle and the second was a suicide bomber on foot. Conflicting accounts are common in the chaotic immediate aftermath of attacks in Afghanistan.

The blasts destroyed several cars and nearby storefronts, leaving the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Abdullah, a former Afghan foreign minister, was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and is now a leading candidate to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third team.

Abdullah is running against former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the second round scheduled for June 14. In the initial balloting, Abdullah garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent. Former presidential candidate Zalmay Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, also was in the convoy Friday but was not injured.

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of the year. Both Abdullah and Ahmadzai have pledged to sign a security pact with the U.S. that will allow thousands of foreign forces to remain in the country after 2014 in a training and advisory capacity. The new president will face the daunting task of resetting relations with Washington, which have taken a battering from Karzai’s increasing anti-American rhetoric.

During the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, Abdullah served as adviser to and spokesman for Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaida two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attack.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The leading Afghan presidential candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt Friday when two bombs struck his convoy after a campaign event in the capital, a reminder of Afghanistan’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power with foreign combat troops set to withdraw by the end of the year.

The attack killed six civilians but Abdullah was unharmed and went on to speak at a campaign rally. Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, it bore the hallmarks of Islamic militants fighting against the Western-backed government.

“My car was the target,” Abdullah told Tolo TV after the attack. “It was a big conspiracy against me.”

At the rally, Abdullah told the crowd that his “vehicle was destroyed, but fortunately we escaped it unharmed. Unfortunately a number of our security guards were wounded in the incident, but thankfully their injuries are not so serious.”

The attack came just over a week before a runoff vote in which Afghans are to choose a new leader to replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the balloting, though the first round on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first direct attack on one of the candidates, as earlier attacks targeted only campaign offices and workers.

Karzai condemned the attack, saying it was staged by “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said there was a suicide bombing followed by a roadside bomb. He said nobody in Abdullah’s entourage was killed. The ministry later issued a statement saying six civilians were killed and 22 were wounded.

But Kabul police chief Mohammed Zahir said both explosions were carried out by suicide bombers – the first was a driver who blew up a vehicle and the second was a suicide bomber on foot. Conflicting accounts are common in the chaotic immediate aftermath of attacks in Afghanistan.

The blasts destroyed several cars and nearby storefronts, leaving the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Abdullah, a former Afghan foreign minister, was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and is now a leading candidate to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third team.

Abdullah is running against former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the second round scheduled for June 14. In the initial balloting, Abdullah garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent. Former presidential candidate Zalmay Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, also was in the convoy Friday but was not injured.

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of the year. Both Abdullah and Ahmadzai have pledged to sign a security pact with the U.S. that will allow thousands of foreign forces to remain in the country after 2014 in a training and advisory capacity. The new president will face the daunting task of resetting relations with Washington, which have taken a battering from Karzai’s increasing anti-American rhetoric.

During the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, Abdullah served as adviser to and spokesman for Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaida two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attack.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media.

Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

KDWN

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Two blasts struck a convoy carrying Afghan presidential hopeful Abdullah Abdullah after a campaign event Friday in Kabul, killing six civilians but leaving the candidate himself unharmed, officials said.

The attack came just over a week before a runoff vote is to be held as Afghans choose a new leader to replace President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the balloting, although the first round on April 5 was relatively peaceful. Friday’s attack was the first to directly target one of the candidates in Kabul.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the violence started with a suicide bombing followed by a roadside bomb. He said nobody in Abdullah’s entourage was killed. The ministry later issued a statement saying six civilians were killed and 22 were wounded.

But Kabul police chief Mohammed Zahir said both explosions were carried out by suicide bombers – the first was a driver who blew up a vehicle and the second was a suicide bomber on foot. Conflicting accounts are common in the chaotic immediate aftermath of attacks in Afghanistan.

In a televised statement shortly after the attack, Abdullah, who was Karzai’s main rival in disputed elections in 2009, said he had not been harmed but some of his security guards had been wounded. Former presidential candidate Zalmay Rassoul, who quit and threw his support to Abdullah, also was in the convoy and was not injured.

Karzai condemned the attack, saying it was staged by “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

The blasts destroyed several cars and nearby storefronts, leaving the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of Islamic militants who are fighting against the Western-backed government.

The Taliban have unleashed a wave of deadly attacks since the campaign to replace Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, but the candidates have faced

Abdullah is running against former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the second round scheduled for June 14. In the initial balloting, Abdullah garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent.

During the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, Abdullah served as adviser to and spokesman for Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al-Qaida two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attack.

In the early days after the U.S.-led alliance toppled the Taliban, Abdullah became the face of Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban movement, giving frequent press conferences to international media. He served as foreign minister and then was the runner-up in President Hamid Karzai’s disputed re-election in 2009.

The vote comes at a pivotal time as the international community prepares to withdraw combat forces by the end of the year. Both Abdullah and Ahmadzai have pledged to sign a security pact with the U.S. that will allow thousands of foreign forces to remain in the country after that in a training and advisory capacity.

The new president also will face the daunting task of resetting relations with Washington, which have taken a battering from Karzai’s increasing anti-American rhetoric.