KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At least 26 people, many of them civilians, were killed on Monday in two simultaneous suicide attacks in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand, a provincial police official said.
Around 45 people were wounded in the twin blasts that targeted a group of police in a shopping area of Girishk district of the province, a long-time bastion of Islamist Taliban guerrillas and the main drug-producing region of Afghanistan — the world’s largest producer of heroin.
“I know that 26 people, many of them civilians, have been killed,” Ghulam Shah, a police official in Helmand province, told Reuters.
Another senior official said the blasts were aimed at police officers and were carried out by two suicide bombers on foot.
Girishk resident Nazar Mohammad said he had counted 25 dead bodies, while several other residents feared the toll was higher than 30.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, part of rising violence in the past 19 months in Afghanistan, the worst period since the Taliban’s U.S.-led ouster in 2001.
The blasts were the bloodiest in weeks in Afghanistan, where Taliban guerrillas largely rely on suicide raids and roadside bomb attacks as part of their campaign against the Afghan government and Western troops stationed in the country.
The United Nations on Sunday said Afghanistan was on course for a record number of suicide bombings in 2007.
Militants carried out 103 suicide attacks between January and the end of August this year, compared to 123 attacks during the whole of 2006, with many bombers recruited from madrasas in neighboring Pakistan, according to a new U.N. report.
Attacks have multiplied in tandem with the insurgency by Islamist Taliban guerrillas, who have copied the suicide attack tactics of al Qaeda, and also against a backdrop of rising attacks in neighboring Pakistan.
But suicide attacks in Afghanistan kill an average of only around three people per attack, which the UN puts down to less extensive training and the profile of bombers, who tend to be poor, ill-educated and young — in contrast to suicide bombers elsewhere in the world.
Suicide attacks killed 305 people in 2006. Of 183 Afghans killed by suicide bombers during the first half of 2007, 121 were civilians — even though attacks target Afghan government and security forces as well as foreign troops.
More than 7,000 people have been killed since early 2006 in a spree of near-daily confrontations, ambushes and suicide blasts.