Taliban bomber kills 31 at Afghan office

Kunduz (Afghanistan), Feb 21 (AFP) A Taliban suicidebomber struck an Afghan government office today, killing 31people and raising to more than 100 the death toll from asurge in high-profile bomb attacks.

A string of insurgent attacks has targeted civiliansand government forces over the last three weeks, just a fewmonths before limited withdrawals of US-led NATO forces aredue to start in July.

Today''s attack took place as people queued outside adistrict office in Imam Sahib in the northern province ofKunduz to collect new identity cards and other paperwork.

Insurgents have made increasing inroads into thenorth, expanding from their traditional power bases in thesouth and east, along the Pakistan border, as they press anine-year insurgency against the government and US-led troops.

District governor Mohammad Ayob Haqyar said a suicideattacker detonated his explosives in the waiting area.

"The number of people killed in the suicide blast roseto 31," he said. "Some of the critically wounded also died inhospital. Thirty-nine people are wounded."

Officials locally and in Kabul said that all of thedead were thought to be civilians.

A local man, Mohammad Ismail, described the scene inthe hospital where the wounded were being treated as chaotic.

"There are wounded and dead all over the floor in thehospital," he told AFP. "There are bodies with theirchopped-off hands or legs next to them in the hospital. It''s adisaster... you can hear screams everywhere."

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed one ofits "hero" members had carried out the attack, which he saidtargeted an army recruitment centre and killed 30 members ofthe security forces.

The insurgent militia, which has been fighting theWestern-backed government since being toppled from power inthe 2001 US-led invasion, routinely deny killing civilians intheir attacks.

Kunduz, in particular, has been volatile in recentmonths. Earlier this month, a suicide bomber killed a districtgovernor and two others after walking into an officeostensibly to hand over a letter.

In the deadliest attack in Afghanistan since lastJune, four suicide bombers killed 38 people on Saturday,apparently targeting police collecting their salaries at abank in the eastern town of Jalalabad.

On Friday, another nine people died in a car bombingnear a district police headquarters in the eastern city ofKhost.

The previous week, 19 people including 15 police andan Afghan intelligence agent, died when suicide bombers armedwith guns, grenades and car bombs targeted police inAfghanistan''s de facto southern capital, Kandahar. (AFP)

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