The mayor of Kandahar was assassinated on Wednesday by a suicide bomber who hid explosives in his turban - the third top-ranking official to be slain this month, Afghan officials said.
Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi, who was 65 years old, had been mentioned as a person to replace President Hamid Karzai's powerful half brother, gunned down July 12 in his heavily fortified home in Kandahar by a close associate.
The assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai set off a power struggle in Kandahar and raised doubts about the strength of the president's support in the south as well as the stability of the critical area for the U.S.-led war effort.
Five days later, Karzai's inner circle suffered another blow when gunmen strapped with explosives killed Jan Mohammad Khan, an adviser to the president on tribal issues and a former governor of Uruzgan province in the south.
A member of parliament also was killed in the July 17 attack at Khan's home in Kabul.
Wednesday's blast took place at a government building in the heart of Kandahar city.
Zalmai Ayubi, spokesman for Kandahar provincial governor, said one civilian also was killed and another civilian and a security guard were wounded in the explosion.
"The suicide bomber put explosives inside his turban," said Sher Shah Yousafzai, deputy police chief in Kandahar province.
"As soon as the mayor came to work, the attacker detonated his
Bismullah Afghan Mal, a member of the upper house of parliament from Kandahar, confirmed the mayor's death.
Kandahar police officials said Hamidi traveled on Tuesday to a district in the city where there was a dispute about the construction of houses.
They said the attacker infiltrated the group that came on Wednesday to talk to the mayor about that issue.
Hamidi, who lived in the United States for nearly two decades before returning to Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, was considered to be Wali Karzai's ally in Kandahar.
But Hamidi operated behind the scenes and his tribal contacts were not
considered strong, leading some to speculate that he could not take
over for Wali Karzai as head of the provincial council.
Ryan Crocker, the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and Gen. John Allen, the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, both condemned the assassination.
"It is an indication of the challenges ahead," Crocker told reporters during his first briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Crocker said the recent string of assassinations could be an indication that the Taliban "have been damaged to the point that they are resorting to terrorist attacks."
But he said there was no clear indication that the Taliban were responsible. "Let's not rush to judgment about who did this," he said.