Kandahar: Five UAE officials were among 57 people killed in a string of bombings across Afghan cities, authorities said today, as Taliban militants step up a deadly winter campaign of violence.
The Emiratis were among 12 people killed when explosives hidden in a sofa detonated inside the governor's compound in southern Kandahar yesterday, while the UAE's ambassador to Afghanistan escaped the attack with injuries.
Just hours before, twin Taliban blasts in Kabul tore through a parliament annexe, which houses the offices of lawmakers, killing at least 38 people and wounding around 86 others.
And earlier yesterday, a Taliban suicide bomber killed seven people in Lashkar Gah, the capital of volatile Helmand province, as the militants ramp up nationwide attacks in frigid winter months, when fighting usually wanes.
The carnage underscores growing insecurity in Afghanistan, where US-backed forces are struggling to combat a resilient Taliban insurgency as well as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants.
Kandahar's governor Humayun Azizi and UAE envoy Juma Mohammed Abdullah Al Kaabi were wounded by flames from the explosion, but many others were burned beyond recognition, said provincial police chief Abdul Raziq, who was present when the blast occurred.
"I was in the room, but had to leave to offer my evening prayer," Raziq said. "I heard the boom from outside and when I came back I saw people were burning."
Kandahar's deputy governor Abdul Shamsi was among the 12 people killed.
Raziq blamed Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Taliban-allied Haqqani network for the attack, adding they had long been plotting to eliminate Kandahar's leadership.
"The terrorist attack happened at a time when the ambassador and a number of UAE diplomats in Afghanistan were on a trip to Kandahar to lay the foundation stone of an orphanage," the Afghan foreign ministry said.
UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan ordered three days of mourning "in honour of the martyrs who gave their lives in defence of humanitarian causes".
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the bombing and ordered an investigation led by Afghanistan's National Security Council chief Hanif Atmar.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the Kandahar attack, but said they were behind the Kabul blasts.