Afghan deputy mayor slain while praying

KABUL (AP) — Insurgents killed a vice mayor of the southern city of Kandahar while he was praying at a mosque, an official said Tuesday, the latest brazen attack on government officials in the volatile region where troops are preparing for an assault on Taliban forces.

Meanwhile, NATO said one of its convoys in Khost province, on the border with Pakistan, fired on a vehicle that ignored warnings to stop late Monday night, killing four people inside the car.

It said two of those killed in the incident were later identified as "known insurgents," although the provincial chief of police, Abdul Hakim Hesaq Zoy, said the dead were all civilians, and included a 12-year-old child.

In the Kandahar slaying, assailants entered the mosque and shot Azizullah Yarmal while he and dozens of others were praying during services Monday night, said Zalmai Ayubi, spokesman for the surrounding province, also called Kandahar.

The assailants escaped and no arrests were made, Ayubi said. Mosques typically provide little security, making them vulnerable to insurgent death squads.

Ayubi said the assassination was among a series of killings of government workers in southern Afghanistan aimed at undermining central authority by terrorizing competent individuals into leaving their posts and punishing those who defy the insurgents.

"This is the work of the enemies of Afghanistan. They don't want these honest people to serve the Afghan people and work in government institutions," Ayubi said.

He said Yarmal was not known to have any powerful enemies or to be involved in any disputes, and had worked to obtain funds for road building and other development projects in the city that was the birthplace of the hard-line Islamic Taliban militia and where they continue to enjoy considerable support.

Insurgents were believed to have been behind the murder last week of an elderly tribal leader in volatile Helmand next door to Kandahar. Lal Mohammad Khan was also shot while praying in a mosque in Helmand's Gereshk district.

Ayubi said other murdered officials included the head of Kandahar's provincial department of information and culture and a former police official who was gunned down despite having left his post three years earlier following threats from the Taliban.

President Barack Obama has ordered 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan in part to back up forces preparing for an upcoming major drive against the Taliban in Kandahar.

The hope is that the country will be stable enough for parliamentary elections to be held in September. The vote will be the first since a fraud-marred presidential ballot last year that prompted Western countries to threaten to withdraw support.

On Tuesday, Afghan election officials said they are committed to keeping those who were involved in the fraud out of the upcoming vote. The election commission has asked the Attorney General's Office to investigate top electoral officials in four provinces that had some of the most flagrant violations — Kandahar, Paktika, Nangarhar and Ghazni, commissioner Zekria Barakzai told reporters.

Barakzai said election officials had submitted evidence against these officials to the attorney general and would continue to work to prosecute others.


Associated Press writers Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Christopher Bodeen and Heidi Vogt contributed to this report.