23 killed by wedding suicide bomber

A suicide bomber has blown himself up in a wedding hall in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 23 people including a prominent warlord-turned-politician and three Afghan security force officials, in an attack that deals a setback to efforts to unify the nation's ethnic factions, Afghan officials said.

Ahmad Khan Samangani, an ethnic Uzbek and anti-Soviet guerrilla leader in the 1980s who later became a member of parliament, was welcoming guests to his daughter's wedding when the explosion occurred in Aybak, the capital of Samangan province.

President Hamid Karzai said 23 people were killed and about 60, including government officials, were wounded in the attack, which he condemned and said was "carried out by the enemies of Afghanistan." He ordered a team from Kabul to fly to the northern province to investigate the bombing.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blast. But in announcing their spring offensive on May 2, the Taliban said they would continue to target those who back the Karzai government and the US-led international military coalition.

Separately, Nato said one of its service members was killed today in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan. It did not provide further details or release the nationality of the service member. The death brings the death toll among foreign troops to 19 so far this month and a total of 234 so far this year.

In western Afghanistan, Abdul Salam Rahimi, the mayor of Shindand district in Herat province, was assassinated by two gunmen on a motorbike, authorities said. A civilian, who was injured in the shooting, later died at a hospital.

Mohammad Nawab Sherzai, criminal investigations director in Aybak who was helping provide security for the wedding, said most of the local guests had already gathered on the second and third floors of the three-story wedding hall when the morning explosion occurred. Samangani and other relatives and elders had moved to the first floor to welcome additional guests arriving from Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of neighbouring Balkh province.

"Suddenly, the attacker, who was among the guests from Mazar-i-Sharif, got very close to Samangani. He detonated his suicide vest," Mr Sherzai said. "It was a big explosion. There were bloody bodies all around the first floor. The explosion was so strong. There were people even on the third floor who were wounded."

"Everybody was running in different directions. For about 10 minutes, nobody knew what was happening," he said. "There was dark smoke all around. After about 10 minutes, the people were able to see the bodies and start helping with the wounded."

The three Afghan security force officials killed were Afghan National Police Gen Sayed Ahmad Sameh, the commander for the western region and a relative of Samangani; Gen Mohammad Khan, the intelligence chief in the province; and Mohammadullah, an Afghan National Army division commander who uses only one name, which is common in Afghanistan.