Suicide Attack Hits Afghan Police, 4 Killed

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A suicide bomber targeted prayers for a prominent assassinated Afghan police chief on Friday, killing four policemen but another top officer escaped unharmed, officials said.

Eighteen other people were wounded in the attack in Kunduz city, capital of the province of the same name which has become a Taliban bastion in recent years and seen an increase in insurgent assaults.

Provincial government spokesman Mahboobullah Saeedi said the suicide bomber tried to enter a mosque where memorial prayers were taking place for General Mohammed Daoud Daoud, but policemen prevented him from getting inside.

"The target was the provincial police chief, but he is not hurt," the spokesman added.

Samiullah Qatra's predecessor as provincial police chief, Abdul Rahman Sayedkhaili, was himself killed on March 10 in a suicide attack in Kunduz claimed by the Taliban, the militia leading a nearly 10-year insurgency.

The provincial health chief, Doctor Zafar Noori, said the bodies of four policemen had been brought to the main hospital, while four civilians and 14 policemen had been wounded in the attack.

Saeedi had given an initial death toll of three with three wounded.

Daoud Daoud, head of police in northern Afghanistan, was killed with five other people in a suicide attack claimed by the Taliban on May 28 in Taloqan, capital of Takhar, the neighboring province to Kunduz.

He was a key figure in recent Afghan history. A former commander of Ahmad Shah Massoud's Northern Alliance, he oversaw the siege of Kunduz, the final major battle of the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that brought down the Taliban regime.

A former deputy interior minister, when he was the country's top counter-narcotics official, Daoud had accused the Taliban of profiting from the opium trade by forging an alliance with drug smugglers and taxing farmers.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban on Friday about the latest attack, but the militia frequently targets government officials as well as police and army in their battle to bring down the U.S.-backed Kabul government.

Afghan police and army are set to take increasing responsibility for security as foreign troops stage a phased withdrawal, which has been billed to start in July and is due to finish by the end of 2014.

Friday's attack came with Afghan President Hamid Karzai due in Pakistan for talks likely to focus on stepping up efforts to negotiate peace with the Taliban after nearly a decade of conflict in both countries.

He is the first head of state to visit Pakistan since U.S. Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in the city of Abbottabad on May 2, which has heightened calls within the United States for its forces to leave Afghanistan.

In Washington, U.S. defense secretary nominee Leon Panetta said Thursday he backed pulling out a significant number of troops next month, in a break with outgoing Pentagon chief Robert Gates.

Obama is due to announce soon how many troops will leave the country next month, while Panetta is on track to replace Gates July 1, and be succeeded as CIA chief by General David Petraeus, now the U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

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