Suicide Bomber Strikes Afghan Wedding

A suicide bomb ripped through a wedding party in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 40 people and wounding dozens more late Wednesday. The attack appears to be part of a widespread Taliban intimidation campaign.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And I'm Deborah Amos.

In Afghanistan's southern province of Kandahar, a suicide bomber killed at least 40 people and wounded more than 70 at a wedding party. The attack appears to be part of a widespread Taliban intimidation campaign. The group wants Afghans to turn against their government and its Western allies.

Joining us now from Kabul is NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. Good morning, Soraya.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Good morning.

AMOS: Tell us what happened.

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, it was a wedding party. Basically what happens in Afghanistan is that men and women separate into their own separate parties as a segregated sort of affair. And on the men's side at about 9 o'clock, the men had gathered for a meal in the home of the family, the extended family.

And a young, from what one witness was describing, a young suicide bomber, maybe 12 or 13 years old, shows up as one of the guests. And suddenly he pulls out a grenade. People see this and they start to try to flee. And he detonates the grenade, he's also is wearing an explosives vest, and so that goes off as well and ends up causing some pretty bad devastation.

There are at least 40 dead. We are talking, almost definitely, that those numbers will rise because there are people missing in addition to very badly wounded people at Kandahar Hospital. So, this wedding party came to a very bitter and abrupt end. The groom was among those who was injured. He, in fact, is being treated at Kandahar Hospital.

AMOS: Soraya, the Taliban is denying responsibility, and they usually take responsibility when they do these things. What suggests that it was them?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, they deny when there are a lot of civilian casualties. But what suggests that this was in fact a Taliban-induced attack, is the fact that this village where this wedding was taking place was a very pro-government village. And in fact, it's the ancestral home of a militia leader named Abdul Hakeem John(ph), who was killed in a similar suicide attack at a dog fight a couple years back.

He was very outspoken and very anti-Taliban. So, the feeling is that this village was targeted as a message to other Afghans to, perhaps, not cooperate with the government or with coalition forces.

AMOS: And so what is the government and NATO forces doing in the aftermath?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, both have expressed great sorrow and are investigating this crime to figure out who the culprits were and to try and do something about it. But it's something that they really have to be seen as investigating and doing something about, just because a lot of these assassinations have been going on and there have been a lot of complaints from Kandahar residents that, hey, we step up to the plate, we back you, we show you support and then our people, you know, we get killed and you don't do anything about it. So, there's really pressure, especially in a big attack like this, for the government and the Western forces to be seen as doing some proactive to prevent this from happening again in the future.

AMOS: In the long term, how do events like this play into NATO's plans to drive the Taliban out of the region?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, it's unlikely to put any sort of stop on operations. These sort of affairs are ongoing at the moment. As you know, NATO is very actively involved in trying to remove the Taliban from its strongholds in Kandahar province. And so, it doesn't seem likely that they would necessarily postpone that or delay that or just not do the operations all together. I mean, I think this almost strengthens the Afghan government's resolve that something happen.

AMOS: Although people will be watching how everybody reacts to this, this is a pretty devastating attack.

SARHADDI NELSON: Very much so. I think across the country there is a lot of sorrow and anguish today, and frustration that more security can't be brought to this area.

AMOS: Thank you very much.

SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome.

AMOS: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reporting from Kabul.

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