Explosion in Kabul coincides with Afghan security handover

KABUL Tue Jun 18, 2013 4:16am EDT

Afghan security forces personnel investigate the site of an explosion in Kabul June 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Afghan security forces personnel investigate the site of an explosion in Kabul June 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

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KABUL (Reuters) - A bomb targeted a senior Shia Muslim cleric in the west of Kabul on Tuesday, police said, shortly before the international military coalition marked its final handover of security to national forces.

At least three civilians were killed and 21 wounded in the blast, which is bound to fuel concern over how the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces will tackle an intensifying insurgency after most foreign combat troops leave the country by the end of 2014.

The explosion happened as Mohammad Mohaqiq, a prominent Hazara politician and the country's senior Shia cleric, passed by the area in a convoy, interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said.

Mohaqiq is also a senior member of the body set up by President Hamid Karzai in 2010 to help broker a peace pact with the Taliban, the High Peace Council.

Mohaqiq escaped unscathed, though several of his bodyguards were wounded, a police spokesman said.

The attack came a week after two large-scale attacks in Kabul claimed by the Taliban, with militants attacking the capital's airport on 10 June, and a suicide bomber killing at least 17 people outside the supreme court the next day.

The explosion occurred 90 minutes before hundreds of local and international officials watched a ceremony on the outskirts of the capital to mark the security handover of the final tranche of provinces and districts to Afghan control.

Those areas, in the country's southeast and east, are some of the Afghanistan's most unstable and include Helmand, Kandahar, Khost, Paktia and Kunar.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen were expected to attend the event.

(Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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