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Helmand Deputy Governor Killed in Suicide Blast

Taleban take credit for blast that killed seven at Lashkar Gah’s central mosque.
By IWPR Afghanistan
Lashkar Gah’s central mosque, just metres away from the provincial governor’s office, was a scene of mayhem on January 31 after a suicide bomber blew himself up after midday prayers.



The seven dead included Hajji Pir Mohammad, the deputy governor of Helmand province and a well-liked and respected public figure. The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack.



The mosque, refurbished since the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001, was awash with blood, with victims and their relatives lying scattered on the carpets.



One young man of about 20 years of age sat by the dead body of his father, unable to speak except to cry over and over again, “Papa, papa!”



Another young man sat on the ground, vacantly staring at the bloody turban he held in his hands.



Helmand police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal told IWPR that seven people including the deputy governor were killed and 18 were injured.



Dr Enayatullah Ghafari, head of the Bost Hospital in Lashkar Gah, told IWPR he had seen six dead and 17 injured at his institution. “Some of these people are very seriously wounded,” he added.



Other casualties were taken to the Emergency Hospital, run by an Italian aid organisation.



The bombing occurred shortly after 1 pm when a massive boom was heard in the city. Reporters running to the scene heard loud screaming and moaning as they neared the mosque.



One man, his bleeding head wrapped in a scarf, was being helped away by a friend. “I am going to the hospital by myself,” he said. “There was no room in the ambulances.”



Several emergency vehicles responded immediately, but they could not cope with all of the casualties. At least four ambulances made multiple trips between the mosque and the town’s two hospitals.



Taleban spokesman Qari Yusuf took responsibility for the attack in a telephone interview with IWPR.



“Today, 20 metres from the main mosque in Lashkar Gah, we had a suicide bomber ready to target Hajji Pir Mohammad, deputy to the governor. He was killed along with ten other people. I cannot say anything about the number of injured, because there were civilians around,” said the spokesman.



Hajji Pir Mohammad was popular among people in the province, with a reputation for honesty and straight dealing.



Hekmatullah, a long-time friend of the dead man, mourned his loss.



“This was his sixth year as deputy governor,” he said. “Pir Mohammad was a strong man, and a strong mujahed [Muslim warrior]. People really liked him.”



Pir Mohammad was appointed deputy governor by the former provincial head, Sher Mohammad Akhundzada, who took over shortly after the fall of the Taleban. He served under two successive governors.



Local people say he was the real power behind the throne, with much of the administrative responsibility for Helmand riding on his shoulders.



The British ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, issued a statement of condolence and condemnation.



“I offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of Pir Mohammad and those caught up in today’s horrific act of violence. The United Kingdom condemns wholeheartedly this attack on the people of Helmand province and on a place of prayer,” said the ambassador.



“I pay tribute to Hajji Pir Mohammad, who sought to bring peace and stability to the troubled Helmand province. This was an attack deliberately designed to undermine the Islamic government of Afghanistan. We must come together to fight extremists who wish to deny the people of Afghanistan a future.”



This was Lashkar Gah’s third suicide bombing in 2008. It came on the same day that a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle in Kabul, killing himself and one civilian.



Aziz Ahmad Tassal is an IWPR staff reporter in Helmand.