Suicide Bomber Attacks Funeral of Anti-Taliban Cleric

A suicide bomber strikes a funeral in Kandahar, Afghanistan, killing at least 14 people. The funeral was for a Muslim cleric who had opposed the Taliban and had been assassinated a few days ago. The New York Times' Carlotta Gall discusses the escalation of violence in Afghanistan.

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

The enemies of an Afghan cleric appear to have pursued him even after his death. Today, an explosion struck people attending a funeral in Kandahar, Afghanistan. That funeral was for a religious leader who had been assassinated a few days ago. He was a prominent supporter of the new government set up by the United States and he was a prominent critic of the Taliban. New York Times reporter Carlotta Gall is in Afghanistan, has been covering this story.

Carlotta, first off, who was this cleric?

Ms. CARLOTTA GALL (The New York Times): He was head of the Council of Clerics of Kandahar, which is a city in the south of Afghanistan which, you may remember, was considered the spiritual stronghold of the Taliban movement. So he was very influential in the whole of southern Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: His name was Maulavi Abdullah Fayaz, and how was he killed on Sunday?

Ms. GALL: It was a very dramatic killing. He was in his office, which is in a central street guarded by police, and two men on a motor bike fired with a Kalashnikov from the street through the window of his office and killed him in his office. They must have seen him from the street.

INSKEEP: This assassination came after Maulavi Abdullah Fayaz had made some statements about the Taliban's leader. What did he say?

Ms. GALL: He gathered a huge gathering of hundreds of clerics about 10 days ago in Kandahar. And they issued a statement together, and one of the things was to declare that the leader of the faithful, as his title is the former leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, no long had the authority to issue orders for killings and for jihad. And, therefore, anyone who followed his orders was going against the law of the land and the Sharia law, Islamic law, here in Afghanistan. So he was essentially divesting the Taliban leader of his title as leader of the faithful which is the highest religious title in the land. So it may have been this action that incensed Taliban supporters into making these attacks.

INSKEEP: So he issued this religious statement against Mullah Omar. He was then killed, and, today, the mourning was still continuing for him. And what happened today?

Ms. GALL: Today, a lot of people were gathering for this second day of mourning at the mosque that is named after his father, and we heard that there's about 60 people in the mosque. And then the police chief of Kabul, who is from Kandahar, arrived with is bodyguards. And what seems to have been a suicide bomber dressed as a policeman, in police uniform, approached the police chief and blew himself up and, of course, killed dozens of people around. It's absolute carnage, the reports are. At least 20 people killed, we think, and many more injured.

INSKEEP: Carlotta, you've covered countless violent incidents in Afghanistan. It's hard for people here, I think, to keep track of them all. It must be hard for you at some point to keep track of them all. Is there something about this sequence of violence, though, that is especially noteworthy?

Ms. GALL: I think because it's a double hit, the mourning ceremony for a man who's been assassinated, it's also particular shocking in this very religious country that it was in a mosque. And it's one of the worst bomb attacks we've had in the three and a half years since the ousting of the Taliban and the new government of Hamid Karzai. It's very distressing.

INSKEEP: Carlotta Gall is a reporter for The New York Times in Afghanistan. Thanks very much.

Ms. GALL: Thank you.

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