At least 15 civilians were killed when a suicide bomber riding a rickshaw blew himself up outside a checkpoint near a market in northern Afghanistan, officials said today.
The attack is the latest in the countdown to presidential elections on April 5.
Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Maymana, the capital of Faryab province, but it happened in an area where the Taliban and allied militant groups are active.
The Taliban have threatened a campaign of violence to disrupt the vote, which will choose a new president to lead the country as foreign troops prepare to end their combat mission by the end of the year.
The attacker was approaching a checkpoint where cars were being searched on a road leading to the governor’s compound in Maymana when he detonated his explosives hidden in the rickshaw, the officials said.
Most of the victims were vendors peddling fresh bread and other people in the busy roadside market area.
Deputy Governor Abdul Satar Barez said 15 people were killed and 46 others injured, 27 of them seriously, in the explosion which struck some 200 yards from the governor’s compound.
Women, children and employees of the nearby electricity department were among the casualties, Mr Barez said, but he could not provide an immediate breakdown.
“They killed innocent people in a place where locals were just trying to earn 10 Afghanis (about 10p) to buy a piece of bread. Most of the casualties were either selling bread or buying it,” he said.
The Taliban have staged numerous attacks in Faryab, which lies far from their traditional strongholds in southern and eastern Afghanistan. In October 2012, a suicide bomber struck a mosque packed with senior regional officials in Maymana, killing 41 people.
Afghan civilians are frequently caught up in the violence as insurgents battle Afghan and international troops in an effort to undermine the Western-backed government. The United Nations said 2,959 civilians were killed and 5,656 wounded last year, a 14% increase from the previous year.
The Taliban deny that they target civilians, but the UN report blamed 74% of all civilian casualties last year on insurgents.