Afghanistan's vice president sustained minor injuries Wednesday in an explosion targeting his convoy that killed at least 10 people, as government-backed negotiators and the Taliban prepared to meet in Doha for the long-delayed peace talks.
The attack in the capital Kabul was quickly condemned as an attempt to frustrate the peace process, with top Afghan and foreign officials calling for an end to violence for negotiations between the two warring sides to succeed, AFP reported.
In a video posted on Facebook soon after the explosion, Amrullah Saleh, an outspoken Taliban critic, said he had been traveling to his office when his convoy was attacked.
"I am fine but some of my guards have been wounded," Saleh said, with bandages on his left hand. "I have some burns on my face and hand. The blast was strong."
The Interior Ministry said the bomb was placed on a hand cart and detonated remotely when Saleh's convoy passed by.
"Unfortunately, 10 civilians, mostly people who were working in the area, were killed, and 15, including a number of the first VP's bodyguards, were wounded," Tareq Arian, the spokesman to the ministry, told reporters at the scene.
The Taliban, who have pledged not to launch attacks in urban areas under a deal with the United States, denied responsibility.
Saleh, the senior of Afghanistan's two vice presidents, survived an assassination attempt last year ahead of presidential elections.
At least 20 people – most of them civilians – were killed and 50 others wounded when a suicide attacker and gunmen targeted Saleh's Kabul office at that time.
‘Enemies of peace’
President Ashraf Ghani, who met Saleh soon after Wednesday's blast, condemned what he said was a "terrorist attack" on his first deputy.
"The terrorists and their foreign backers cannot undermine the people's strong faith in peace, democracy and the bright future of our country," Ghani said in a statement.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh condemned the attack as a move made by “enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan,” IRNA reported.
The European Union’s office in Afghanistan said Wednesday's attack was a "desperate act by spoilers of peace efforts".
The head of the Afghan negotiating team, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, called for violence to stop if the peace process was to succeed.
Even as preparations for negotiations continue, violence on the ground has carried on unabated, with the Taliban unleashing daily attacks.
Saleh on Sunday said Kabul's negotiating team would push early on at peace talks for a permanent truce.
"The first test for the Taliban is (a) cease-fire," Saleh told Tolo News.
"If they accept the cease-fire, they are committed to peace. If not, they are not."
Peace talks were supposed to begin in March but were repeatedly delayed over a prisoner swap that included the release of hundreds of battle-hardened militants.
Saleh said on Sunday the six inmates would be sent to Qatar.