KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai said Friday the attempt on his life and the deadly car bombing in his capital a day earlier were the acts of individual terrorists, not a threat to his government.
Afghan police and intelligence questioned suspects in Thursday's assassination bid in the southern city of Kandahar and the car bombing in Kabul a few hours earlier that killed 26 people and wounded 150 -- the worst day of violence since the Taliban was driven from power.
Police said 14 people were detained in Kandahar Friday for questioning in connection with the assassination bid, in which a bullet fired by a security guard hired to protect a local governor's mansion missed Karzai by inches.
A spokesman for Kandahar's governor -- who was wounded in the attempt -- later said 17 people were arrested, all security guards.
The attacks were seen by many as a serious challenge to Karzai's struggle to establish stability in a country divided among feuding warlords, harried by remnants of the Taliban regime and its al-Qaida terrorist allies, and left in financial ruins by decades of bloodshed.
But Karzai minimized the importance of the two attacks.
"These incidents do not indicate any problems," Karzai told reporters in his first public comments since they occurred.
"These are incidents done by terrorists in an isolated manner. This means they are no longer capable of mobilizing as groups so they act as individuals."
Nevertheless, Karzai said Afghanistan must improve its security.
"We have a long way to go to bring total technical security to the country," he said. "So it is a job that we have to do in cooperation with the rest of the world."
Asked about the attempt on his life, Karzai said, "I don't take it seriously at all. I'm more concerned about the loss of life yesterday in Kabul."
Karzai said he had been wounded three times during the struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and his father was killed by the Taliban, "But did that stop me from fighting?"
Still, he promised to be more careful about his personal security. "I will not be as reckless as I am."
The would-be assassin, dressed in a security uniform, emerged from the crowd greeting Karzai as he left the governor's palace and fired on the president's car.
Karzai's American bodyguards killed the gunman and two other men, both carrying weapons. One was an Afghan bodyguard for Karzai and the second was a bystander, officials said Friday.
The governor of Kandahar, Gul Agha Sherzai, was grazed in the neck by the gunman's bullet. He was treated and released Thursday from the medical unit of the U.S. air base south of the city.
Sherzai's spokesman, Khalid Pashtoon, said commanders had been ordered not to recruit new men to the security service, but that the gunman might have hired by a relative.
"Unfortunately, Afghan people are not so well-trained or professional. Maybe this person was a compatriot or tribesmate so he hired him," Pashtoon said.
It was not immediately clear if the two incidents were coordinated, or who was behind either attack. Afghan officials speculated it could have been Taliban or al-Qaida fugitives or former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is purportedly trying to forge a new alliance with both groups.
Officials said the gunman was from the Pashtun heartland of southern Afghanistan, where resentment has been growing against U.S. operations in the region against remaining Taliban fighters and the al-Qaida terrorist network.
Pashtoon said an initial investigation showed the 22-year-old suspect was from Helmand province. Kandahar police chief Gen. Mohammed Akram identified the assailant as Abdul Rahman from Helmand.
Pashtoon and Akram said the man had been hired 15 days ago as a security guard for the governor's mansion, which is under renovation. His co-workers were picked up for questioning early Friday to try to determine whether he was linked to any dissident group.
"The people guarding this place were hired to protect the palace, not us. Maybe it's our big mistake," he said.
Preliminary investigations indicate that Taliban leaders may be behind the incident, Pashtoon said without disclosing specifics. U.S. authorities will likely be asked to join the investigation, he said.
In Kabul, police said Friday that two suspects were detained for questioning after they were linked to the taxi concealing the massive explosive that detonated in a congested market area around the Information Ministry.
"Everybody is angry with al-Qaida," said 29-year-old Mul Tan, who was driving a truck at the site which workers were filling with debris. "This is not a military site. Look at all these shops. They wanted to kill all these people."
High on a hill overlooking Kabul, a father helped bury his dead son -- a moneychanger who died of wounds overnight at Wazir Akbar Khan hospital.
"I had two sons before, now I only have one," Shah Mohammad said, weeping quietly as a dozen men removed their turbans, stretching them under the still-bloody body to lower it into a fresh, rocky grave.
On Friday, international peacekeepers wearing flak jackets moved through the city in small convoys of armored personnel carriers and jeeps, stopping at intersections to inspect passing cars.
Karzai flew back to Kabul Friday to keep an appointment with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was in Afghanistan to discuss helping the fledging Afghan army with weapons, supplies and training, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
The trip to Kabul is the first post-Soviet visit by a Russian defense minister to Afghanistan, a country the Soviet Union occupied for 10 years. The Soviets withdrew their troops in 1989.
On Friday, Kandahar residents expressed anger and dismay over the assassination attempt.
"If (the president) had died, our nation would face a huge loss," said 42-year-old teacher Ali Ahmed Fazali. "We have no one who unites this country except Karzai."