KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai survived an assassination attempt Thursday when a security guard fired at his car as it was leaving the governor's mansion in Kandahar, witnesses said.
Afghan officials were quick to say Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network was responsible for both the assassination attempt and a fatal explosion in Kabul earlier in the day.
"Terrorists are behind both attacks, there is no doubt about it. And terrorists in this region are led by Usama and his associates," said Foreign Minister Abdullah.
The government offered no immediate evidence of bin Laden's involvement. Others offered a different theory, blaming the mounting anger of the Pashtun majority toward a government controlled by Americans and dominated by rival Tajiks from the north.
In a report, The British Broadcasting Corp. identified the attacker as Abdul Rahman and said he hailed from Kajaki in the province of Helmand, an ethnic Pashtun region west of Kandahara. Helmand is one of the areas where U.S. forces searched for the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
The incident occurred shortly after a car bomb killed and wounded scores of people in the Afghan capital Kabul, 300 miles to the northeast. It was unclear if the incidents were related.
The governor of Kandahar province, Gul Agha Sherzai, was injured, and witnesses saw him bleeding from the neck. Three people were killed in the melee when the president's American bodyguards opened fire. Fox News has learned that one American soldier was wounded in the firefight.
Rahman had joined the security forces of Sherzai less than three weeks ago, according to the BBC report. It was not known if the Kandahar governor was hurt by gunfire from the assailant or from shots fired afterward.
In Washington, a White House spokesman said Karzai was not hurt in the attack.
Three bullet-riddled bodies, one in an Afghan military uniform, could be seen outside the mansion grounds lying in a pool of blood.
"I was just outside the gate when I heard the gunshots," Sherzai's security chief Dur Mohammed said. "The Americans opened fire on three people and they were killed."
Other witnesses told Fox News that the bodyguard started shooting as Karzai stopped to shake a little boy's hand.
Lt. Tina Kroske, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military at Bagram air base, the U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan, confirmed that U.S. special operations forces did open fire on the attackers, killing three people.
President Bush was informed of the attempt and expressed relief that Karzai was unhurt, said White House spokesman Sean McCormack.
Bush looks forward to meeting with Karzai next week during the special session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, McCormack said.
There was no immediate information about the assailant, the spokesman said.
Karzai was in Kandahar, the former spiritual headquarters of the Taliban, to attend a wedding celebration for his youngest brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai.
Witnesses said Karzai was leaving the governor's house in his motorcade when shots were fired in his direction. U.S. Special Forces guarding him screamed for him to take cover and the convoy sped away.
After the attack, Karzai returned to the governor's guesthouse, where he is staying, and said he was fine.
"As he arrived here he assured people that he was fine," said BBC reporter Lyse Doucet, who saw the attack.
Sherzai is being treated at the hospital at the U.S. air base in Kandahar, said Capt. Christa D'Andrea, another U.S. spokesman at Bagram air base.
D'Andrea did not have any information on the extent of Sherzai's injuries and could not provide any details about the assassination attempt.
The shooting occurred shortly after a powerful car bomb rocked a busy market area in the center of Kabul on Thursday, killing and wounding scores in the bloodiest attack in the Afghan capital since the fall of the Taliban.
Reports of the number of casualties were confused, but police said 10 people were killed and dozens wounded.
"This bomb was inside a taxi," said police spokesman Dul Aqa. "It was a very, very strong explosion. We can't say exactly who was behind it but we know the last bombs were Al Qaeda and Gulbuddin."
He was referring to former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who issued a call for jihad, or holy war, this week to drive U.S. and foreign troops including international peacekeepers from Afghanistan.
Some officials have speculated that he may have formed an alliance with remaining Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, although no clear evidence of this has surfaced.
The attacks in Kandahar and Kabul came less than a week ahead of the Sept. 11 anniversary, and at a time when Afghanistan was remembering northern alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massood, killed Sept. 9, 2001, in an assassination attempt blamed on Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.