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Dostum survives suicide attack

January 21, 2005

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KABUL, Jan 20: Afghan strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum survived an assassination attempt by a suicide bomber on Thursday but 22 people were injured, an aide to Dostum and witnesses said.

The attacker, with explosives strapped to his body, blew himself up at a mosque where Dostum had been saying prayers for the Eidul-Azha. "There was an explosion today in the morning in the mosque where General Dostum prayed. He has survived the suicide attack," Akram Pahlawan, the general's assistant, told AFP.

Local television journalist Mohammed Yusuf Rawanyar said 22 people were injured, including two of Dostum's bodyguards. Rawanyar said the blast occurred shortly after Dostum had finished praying and while he was greeting the faithful outside Ghocha Park Mosque in the town of Shibirghan.

"General Dostum is safe and sound. The identity of the assassin is still unknown," he added. Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek and former general, was an unsuccessful candidate in last October's presidential election, winning 10 per cent of the vote largely among the Uzbek and Turkmen minorities.

One of Afghanistan's most feared military strongmen, Dostum recently began disarming his local militia but was allowed to retain a personal retinue of 200 bodyguards.

"After the holy Eid prayer, as I left the mosque and I was putting on my shoes there was a big explosion. I am not hurt but at least 21 of our compatriots were injured," Dostum told provincial Aina Television station.

The warlord blamed Al Qaeda for the attack, without giving evidence to back his claim. "The investigation has not been completed but personally I think this was the work of terrorists and an Al Qaeda group," he said.

Television footage showed a group of people talking in the mosque's courtyard, followed by a blast and a cloud of smoke and scenes of panic. It then cut to a body and a charred pile of clothes lying on the ground.

Dostum's brother Qadir, who was injured in the blast, told AFP that Dostum's bodyguards stepped in front of the bomber and took the brunt of the explosion. "Two of the bodyguards are seriously injured," he added.

Despite the attack, a visibly shaken Dostum continued to hold court on Thursday afternoon at his house in Sheberghan, receiving over 30 guests, an AFP reporter witnessed. -AFP