KABUL - Afghan presidential front-runner Abdullah Abdullah escaped an assassination attempt Friday when two blasts hit his campaign motorcade in Kabul, killing at least six people just ahead of a hotly contested run-off election.
It was the second attack targeting Abdullah during Afghanistan’s fractious election season, which has seen an uptick in violence with Taliban militants threatening to disrupt the polls.
Abdullah said he was unhurt in Friday’s blasts but lost three of his campaign colleagues who were among six civilians killed, according to the interior ministry.
“Based on initial police information, six people were killed and 22 others were wounded in the attack,” the ministry said in a statement.
Blood was splattered near one vehicle in the convoy which was badly charred, while medics carried a body away on a stretcher.
The blast site was cordoned off by security officials as ambulances rushed to the scene and took the wounded to hospital, making their way through a sandstorm that hit the capital.
“The first attack was a suicide car bomb on a convoy of Dr Abdullah Abdullah and the second was a mine attack,” Sayed Gul Agha Hashemi, head of Kabul police’s criminal investigation branch, told AFP.
The blast occurred soon after Abdullah left an election rally in the city’s Ariana hotel. Some witnesses in the area reported hearing two ear-splitting explosions.
Abdullah also survived an attack on his convoy in February when he was travelling between Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad.
The latest assassination attempt came ahead of the second-round presidential election on June 14, which Taliban insurgents have threatened to disrupt. No one has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.
Afghanistan is in the middle of elections to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled since the fall of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime.
Abdullah fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed for an outright victory in the April first round and will face former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani in the run-off.
“We condemn the attack on respected presidential candidate Dr Abdullah Abdullah,” Ghani said on Twitter. “This is the act of the enemies of Afghanistan to disrupt the democratic process in the country.” Karzai also denounced the attack, saying in a statement that it was “the work of the enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want Afghanistan to have a free and peaceful election”. President Barack Obama recently outlined the US strategy to end America’s longest war, saying that the 32,000-strong US deployment in Afghanistan would be scaled back to around 9,800 by the start of 2015.
Those forces will be halved by the end of 2015 before eventually being reduced to a normal embassy presence with a security assistance component by the end of 2016.
But the drawdown relies on Afghanistan signing a long-delayed Bilateral Security Agreement laying out the terms of the US military presence in the country after this year.
The outgoing Karzai refuses to sign the pact, but both Afghan presidential candidates have vowed to sign it if elected.