KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber dressed in a police uniform killed 14 people including a prominent provincial council chief outside the council headquarters in northern Afghanistan on Monday, authorities said. The Taliban insurgency quickly claimed responsibility.
Seeking to weaken the Afghan government, Taliban insurgents have been carrying out attacks and assassinations intended to intimidate both officials and civilians ahead of next year's withdrawal of most international troops.
Baghlan provincial council leader Mohammad Rasoul Mohseni was entering the compound in the provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri in the morning when the bomber approached on foot and detonated his explosives, said Baghlan chief of police Asadullah Sherzad.
The attacker was dressed in police uniform and blended with officers at a checkpoint near the council headquarters, then slipped into a group of people surrounding Mohseni and set off his bomb in the crowd, said Baghlan deputy police chief Mohammad Sadeq Muradi.
"He was basically waiting for his target, who was Rasoul Mohseni," Muradi said.
Two of Mohseni's police bodyguards, four checkpoint police and seven civilians were killed in the blast, he said. It was unclear whether the attacker was actually a member of Afghan security forces or an insurgent who bought or stole a uniform.
Mohammad Zahier Ghanizada, a member of parliament from Baghlan, said that Mohseni had previously received multiple death threats.
A well-known figure in Baghlan, Mohseni was previously a respected commander in the Northern Alliance that fought against the Taliban's hard-line regime before it was toppled in 2001. He comes from a prominent family in the province, and his brother Azim Mohseni is a member of parliament.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed in a text message to journalists that an insurgent operative carried out the targeted bombing.
"Today at 11 a.m. in front of the Baghlan provincial council office, we have carried out a suicide attack and killed the head of the council," it said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing Monday.
"Such attacks are against all human rights and the principles of Islam," Karzai said in a statement. "Perpetrators of such attacks are enemies of the Afghan nation and the puppets of foreigners."
Karzai left later Monday for a two-day state visit to India, where he is expected to request military aid.
Both Karzai and the U.S. have sought peace talks with the Taliban and other insurgent factions in preparation for most foreign troops leaving next year after more than 12 years of war, but the efforts have borne little fruit. The Taliban seek to re-establish the strict interpretation of Islamic law they imposed for five years before being ousted in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion over its sheltering of al-Qaida's leadership.
The insurgents last month launched a fierce new spring offensive. On Monday, Taliban forces attacked several police checkpoints in the southern province of Helmand, and fighting raged on all day and into the night, both insurgents and police said.
Helmand's deputy police chief, Ghulam Rabbani, said the fighting was in heavily contested Sangin district and there were casualties on both sides. He expected the clashes to continue overnight.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the insurgents had wrested control of six police checkpoints, but Helmand government officials denied that.
The insurgents also are pushing an assassination and bombing campaign that has in the past week alone seen the police chief of Farah province gunned down outside his home and twin blasts kill nine people in an elite gated community for government officials and business owners outside of the southern city of Kandahar. Two bombs also exploded outside the provincial governor's office in Nangarhar province last week, killing one police guard.
Insurgents have also targeted members of the international coalition. A roadside bomb killed four American soldiers last week in the country's south, while another insurgent faction, Hizb-e-Islami, targeted a coalition convoy in the capital of Kabul two days later, killing two U.S. soldiers and four American contractors who were training Afghan troops to take over security.
Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.