Suicide Attack Rips Through Afghan Wedding Party

Afghan men inspect coffins of blast victims outside a hospital in Kandahar. i

Afghan men inspect coffins of blast victims outside a hospital in Kandahar the day after an attack on members of a wedding party late Wednesday. Nosrait Shoaib/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Nosrait Shoaib/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan men inspect coffins of blast victims outside a hospital in Kandahar.

Afghan men inspect coffins of blast victims outside a hospital in Kandahar the day after an attack on members of a wedding party late Wednesday.

Nosrait Shoaib/AFP/Getty Images

A bomb blast tore through a wedding celebration in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens in an attack that appeared to be part of a widespread Taliban campaign of intimidation.

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The attack in Kandahar province, a region that is the target of a NATO military campaign to dislodge insurgents, occurred as men gathered for a late meal at the home of the extended family.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, reporting from Kabul, said one witness told her that a 12- or 13-year-old boy showed up as one of the guests and then pulled out a grenade. "People see this and they try to start to flee. He detonates the grenade and he is also wearing an explosives vest, so that goes off as well," Nelson said, relating details from the witness.

But some village residents told The Associated Press that it was an aerial bombardment and not a suicide bombing. Mohammad Rassool, a cousin of the groom, said helicopters had been circling above the compound before the explosion.

NATO said no service members from the alliance were involved or operating in the area at the time of the explosion. U.S. military spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said the deaths were not the result of an airstrike.

More than 70 people were injured in the blast, and Nelson said the death toll is likely to rise because a number of people were still missing.

The groom was being treated for injuries at Kandahar's main hospital. Because Afghan wedding parties are traditionally segregated, the bride and her female guests were not with the men at the time of the blast, which nearly flattened the outer wall of the compound in Kandahar's Arghandab district.

The family that was attacked included a number of Afghan police officers. The groom's brother and two of his cousins were in the police force, according to relatives.

The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, but strong suspicion fell on the hard-line Islamic militia that ruled Afghanistan before it was ousted by the 2001 U.S. invasion.

Nelson said the Taliban often deny involvement in attacks where large numbers of civilian casualties are involved. "But what suggests this was in fact a Taliban-induced attack is the fact that this village is very pro-government," she said.

At a news conference in Kandahar city, provincial Gov. Tooryalai Wesa held up a chunk of metal he said was from a suicide bomb used in the attack as he rejected the Taliban claim of innocence.

"The Taliban are doing two things at once," Wesa said. "On one side they target people who are in favor of the government, then at the same time they don't want people to know their real face."

The Taliban have stepped up attacks on Afghans who they believe are in support of the government or Western coalition. As NATO gears for a major campaign in Kandahar this summer, insurgents have launched a bloody counteroffensive.

On Wednesday, the Taliban hanged a 7-year-old boy in public in neighboring Helmand province for alleged spying, a local official said. Insurgents also dragged a Kandahar provincial council member, Amir Mohammad Noorzai, from his house and fatally shot him, according to local government spokesman Zalmai Ayoubi.

Four American troops were killed Wednesday when their helicopter was shot down over southern Afghanistan, bringing the number of fallen NATO troops in Afghanistan so far this month to 29.

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