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Suicide bomb kills 28 in Afghanistan

Police seen target of blast at market

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber on a motorized rickshaw detonated explosives yesterday in a marketplace in southern Afghanistan, killing 28 people in one of the deadliest bombings since the fall of the Taliban. Children selling chewing gum and cigarettes were among the victims of the blast.

The attacker was apparently targeting a police commander when he detonated his bomb near a taxi stand around 6:30 p.m. in the town of Gereshk in Helmand province, the world's largest poppy-growing region and site of the country's worst violence this year.

Gereshk district chief Abdul Manaf Khan said 28 people were killed, including 13 police and 15 civilians. The provincial chief of public health, Enayatullah Ghafari, said the hospital recorded 26 deaths and 60 wounded, though he said some of the dead probably weren't brought to the hospital and the death toll was likely higher.

NATO said 13 people were taken to a NATO-Afghan base for treatment and 45 people to the Gereshk hospital.

Taliban militants have set off a record number of suicide blasts this year - more than 100 through the end of August - but few have been as deadly as the Helmand attack. The Taliban typically aim their attacks at international and Afghan military and police forces.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force said the attacker was driving a motorized rickshaw - a small engine-powered cart commonly used as a taxi in southern Afghanistan.

General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the Defense Ministry spokesman, said a local police commander who survived the attack appeared to have been the target. A Taliban spokesman couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

The attack appeared to be the second-deadliest bombing in Afghanistan this year and the third-deadliest since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001. In June, 35 people were killed in a bomb attack on a police bus in Kabul, while in September 2002, 30 people were killed and 167 wounded in a Kabul car bombing.

Afghanistan has seen a spike in violence this year, especially in the south. More than 4,200 people, mostly militants, have died in insurgency-related violence in 2007, according to an AP count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials.

Meanwhile, 10 of 13 employees for a UN-funded land mine-clearing agency who were kidnapped in eastern Afghanistan last week were released yesterday, said Paktia provincial police chief Esmatullah Alizai. The three remaining captives were expected to be released soon, Alizai said.

Kefayatullah Eblagh, the head of Afghan Technical Consultants, the mine-clearing agency, said he didn't think Taliban militants were behind the abductions, suggesting a criminal group seeking ransom money was responsible.

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