KABUL, Afghanistan – A powerful cousin of outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai was assassinated by a suicide bomber hiding explosives in his cap on Tuesday, a provincial official said. It was the latest attack targeting Afghan power brokers and government officials as insurgents and political factions struggle for power ahead of the withdrawal of foreign combat forces by the end of this year.
Hashmat Khalil Karzai was a staunch supporter of the president and had played an active role in the campaign to choose his cousin's successor.
The attacker blew himself up while bowing to kiss Karzai's hand following morning prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr in a reception room at the Karzai family home in the southern province of Kandahar, a provincial government spokesman said.
It was similar to the September 2011 killing of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who at the time was the leader of a government-appointed peace council seeking reconciliation with militants.
President Karzai condemned the attack. "Just like all other Afghans who are the daily targets of terrorist attacks, our family too is no exception and as every other Afghan, we too will have to bear it," he said in a statement.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack, which comes at a sensitive time in Afghanistan as an audit is taking place under international supervision of all 8 million ballots cast last month in the second round of the country's presidential election. The process is key to insuring a peaceful transfer of power as the international community winds down its combat mission and foreign aid dwindles.
Hashmat Karzai was campaign manager for former Finance Minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who is competing against Abdullah Abdullah.
The president, who was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, has appealed for a speedy conclusion to the audit, saying that Afghanistan urgently needs a new leader.
Dawa Khan Minapal, the provincial government spokesman, initially said the explosives were hidden in a turban but later said they were under a cap worn by the bomber. He said one person also was wounded and authorities were investigating how the bomber got the explosives through the security checks at the Karzai home in the district of Karz.
It was not the first time that Karzai's family members have been targeted. The president's powerful half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, who was the head of the provincial council, was slain in his home in the city of Kandahar by his bodyguard in July 2011.
British Ambassador Richard Stagg also expressed condolences to the Karzai family.
Hashmat's "killers must not be allowed to prevent the desire of ordinary Afghans to see a peaceful political transition based on the votes they cast," Stagg said in a statement.