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 and underscoring the danger the Taliban still poses to the central government.
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 no one 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 behind 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.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of insurgents who are fighting against the Western-backed government.
The Taliban have unleashed a wave of deadly attacks since the campaign for a leader to replace Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
Abdullah is running against former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani 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-Qaeda two days before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
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 Ghani have pledged to sign a security pact with the United States 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 navigating the country out of 12 years of war while the Taliban insurgency still rages in much of Afghanistan’s south and east.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press