Suicide bomber kills 9 Afghans and Italian soldier

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KABUL, Nov 24 (Reuters) A suicide bomber killed nine civilians, six of them children, and an Italian soldier on the outskirts of the Afghan capital Kabul today, NATO said.

The hardline Islamist Taliban have killed at least 200 civilians in more than 140 suicide attacks this year in a campaign to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and eject more than 50,000 foreign troops from the country.

Troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were opening a newly built bridge over a river to the west of Kabul and many people had gathered to watch.

The ISAF said in a statement that the attacker, wearing civilian clothing, was spotted at the scene, adding: ''Once spotted, ISAF personnel moved in to question the individual when the insurgent detonated himself.'' The Afghan government ''strongly condemns this brutal attack which is against humanity, Islam and the stability of Afghanistan'', the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Four Italian soldiers were wounded in the attack and one of them died on his way to hospital, the Italian army said.

Nine civilians were also wounded.

''My brother was covered with blood and I saw a huge cloud of smoke rising and when I put my hand to my head and I realised I was also wounded,'' said Hanifa, a small girl, before she was carried to an ambulance.

Italian soldiers cordoned off the scene.

Italy has nearly 2,400 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of the ISAF, most of them in the west of the country. Italy also has troops in Kabul involved in reconstruction and development projects.

Another suicide bomber blew himself up today near a convoy of foreign troops in the eastern province of Khost, but no one else was injured, the provincial governor said.

Afghanistan has witnessed steadily escalating violence since the Taliban relaunched their insurgency two years ago. Since then, more than 7,000 people have been killed.

REUTERS JT RAI2237

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