A suicide bomber killed 10 Afghans, including a prominent tribal leader close to President Karzai, in an attack at a meeting today in the northeastern province of Kunar.
The suicide bomber attacked Haji Malik Zarin as he left a meeting of tribal elders in the village of Chaji in Kunar’s Asmar district. Among the nine additional victims of the attack were Zarin’s son, his grandson, and several other tribal elders.
“The suicide attacker approached them, hugged Malik Zarin and then detonated the explosives strapped to his body,” the district police chief told AFP.
Zarin is a “famous jihadi commander” who fought in Afghanistan during the 1990s, according to Pajhwok Afghan News. He has been described by the BBC as a close ally of President Hamid Karzai who led Kunar’s High Peace Council and who had been gathering former warlords to support the government.
Zarin has been targeted in previous assassination attempts. And he “had recently spoken against al Qaeda and Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the ISI,” or Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, according to the BBC.
The Taliban denied carrying out the attack that killed Zarin; and no statement claiming credit has appeared on the Taliban’s website, Voice of Jihad.
Today’s suicide attack was most likely carried out by al Qaeda. The terror group has established bases and training camps in the province, and maintains an extensive network there. US forces captured al Qaeda’s top leader for Kunar, Abu Ikhlas al Masri, during a raid in December 2010, and have carried out multiple raids against Qari Zia Rahman, the dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda regional leader.
Over the past two years, US forces have withdrawn from the Korengal and Pech river valleys, creating more space for al Qaeda and the Taliban to expand their operations in the region. The US has abandoned counterinsurgency efforts in the province and has shifted to carrying out massive sweeps and special operations raids to “mow the lawn,” as one general recently told The Wall Street Journal.
Kunar has recently been the scene of heavy fighting as US and Afghan forces completed an operation in Sarkani and Marawana districts that killed more than 100 Taliban fighters. Six US troops were also killed in the fighting.