KANDAHAR, Afghanistan: The mayor of Kandahar, the biggest city in southern Afghanistan and the birthplace of the Taliban movement, was killed in a suicide attack on Wednesday, police said.
Ghulam Haidar Hameedi died when a suicide bomber set off explosives hidden in his turban as the mayor spoke with some citizens in the courtyard of the city hall, police General Abdul Raziq told AFP.
The death comes two weeks after the assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the so-called “King of Kandahar”, who was a key strongman in the region and an alleged drugs baron who was also the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Kandahar - home to President Karzai's family and scene of some of the war's bloodiest fighting over the course of a decade -- is a hotbed of tribal rivalries over local influence and money.
Hameedi was killed while he spoke to local people about a land dispute in which the mayor had ordered some houses to be destroyed as they were built illegally, participants at the meeting told AFP.
Two children were reportedly killed on Tuesday while the houses were being knocked down.
The motive for the attack was not immediately known but Taliban rebels regularly use suicide strikes to attack foreign troops and Afghan officials associated with the Kabul government.
Born in 1947, Hameedi lived for many years in the United States before returning to Afghanistan in 2006 and being appointed to his post by Karzai.
He escaped an attack on his car in 2009, though his last two deputy mayors were both shot dead in 2010, and the Kandahar province police chief and the province's deputy governor have also been killed this year.
The assassination of Wali Karzai, known as AWK, was predicted to trigger a turf war for control of southern Afghanistan that could reverse recent security gains made by the US-led military coalition.
Wali Karzai maintained an uneasy alliance with US forces thanks to his anti-Taliban credentials, but he was also accused of being a corrupt authoritarian who controlled a private militia.
He was killed on July 12 by a long-time friend and head of his personal protection force, creating deep uncertainty over the future security of the province as the United States begins its first troop withdrawals.
Wali Karzai's death was followed a few days later by the assassination of a senior adviser to the Afghan president in Kabul.
Jan Mohammad Khan, the former governor of southern Uruzgan province and a key Karzai ally, was killed in a gun attack on his home in the capital.
The Taliban claimed responsibility but the government has not identified the killers, calling them only “enemies of Afghanistan” in a reference to insurgents.
Nato troops mounted a campaign last year for control of Kandahar city, the second largest in Afghanistan. Although US commanders say progress has been made across the province, they admit they are far from defeating the insurgency.
The latest in the series of killings comes after the first phase of security transitions from foreign to local forces' control.
Seven parts of the country were ceremonially handed over to Afghan forces last week, although Nato officials say it will be up to two years before each area will assume full control for security and governance.
Critics have said the process is premature because Afghan forces are not ready to hold off the Taliban, and they say it is motivated by a political timetable as coalition nations start to bring some of their troops home.
All Western combat troops are due to leave by the end of 2014.