KANDAHAR (Afghanistan), July 27: The mayor of Kandahar, a close ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was assassinated in a suicide attack on Wednesday — the latest in a string of political murders in the key southern region.

The killing came two weeks after Karzai’s powerful brother was shot dead in the city and is a further setback for US-led efforts to control the Taliban’s spiritual home as foreign troops start to withdraw.

The suicide bomber detonated explosives hidden in his turban and killed mayor Ghulam Haidar Hameedi, who was talking to people in the courtyard of Kandahar’s city hall, police chief Abdul Razeq said.

Those involved in the talks said Hameedi had been discussing a land dispute with residents after he ordered the destruction of illegally built homes and two children reportedly died during demolition work on Tuesday.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying that a volunteer suicide attacker had come forward after the deaths of the children.

“In a suicide attack by a (volunteer) in Kandahar municipality, mayor Hameedi... is murdered,” said Taliban spokesman Qari Yosuf Ahmadi in a text message.

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.

Kandahar-based analyst Yunos Fakoor said Hameedi, who had lived for years in the United States until he took his post in 2006, had a reputation for resisting corruption in the volatile region and was an important Karzai ally.

The 65-year-old mayor leaves behind five daughters and two sons.

“(He) was under direct support of the Karzai brothers. Kandahar-wise, it is again another big loss for President Karzai,” said Fakoor.

Kandahar provincial governor Tooryalai Wesa vowed to hunt down those responsible and said that security would be stepped up for other high-ranking officials.

He also heaped scorn on anyone guilty of illegal land grabs who had stood in the way of the mayor's plans to develop the city.

“If the (land) grabbers or warlords are happy about the attack on the mayor, let me assure them that all his wishes and aspirations will still be carried out,” he said.

Hameedi 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 its deputy governor have also been killed this year.

The president's half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, known as the “king of Kandahar” was shot dead in his home in the city by a close friend two weeks ago, in a killing also claimed by the insurgent group.

Wali Karzai's death was followed a few days later by the assassination of Jan Mohammad Khan, a senior adviser to Karzai and the former governor of the southern province of Uruzgan.

The new US ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, condemned the mayor's death as “horrific”, but said the string of assassinations did not signal defeat for coalition efforts in Kandahar.

Comparing the recent violence to political killings during his tenure as ambassador in Iraq, Crocker said assassinations could reflect the Taliban’s inability to mount more organised attacks.—AFP

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