The front-runner in Afghanistan’s presidential election narrowly escaped an assassination attempt that killed six people and injured more than twenty today — one of the bloodiest attacks on a campaign rally, and the closest call for the favorite to take the helm of the country at a difficult transition time.
Abdullah Abdullah, who had already survived an assassination attempt in February, was attacked right after a campaign event at a hotel in Kabul, as two bombs — one by a suicide bomber — exploded in his convoy.
'The explosion was carried out by the enemies of the Afghan people who do not want them to elect their future president freely.'
The candidate, who was unharmed in the explosion, went on local television shortly afterwards.
"Thank God, we have not suffered any injuries," he said, according to the BBC. "However, regrettably, a number of security guards were wounded.”
He later tweeted that the violence won't intimidate him and the Afghan people.
Later reports said that one of Abdullah’s bodyguards was killed in the blast, although other accounts put the figure at three.
Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though the Taliban have pledged to do anything in their power to disrupt the election. A spokesman for the Taliban did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
The photos below, shared on social media by a reporter on the scene, show the aftermath of the attack.
The first round of the vote was held on April 5 and was marked by a large turnout and little violence in the capital, despite an escalation in Taliban-led attacks in the weeks leading up to it.
'In the last election, the reputation of the Taliban was seriously undermined.'
While turnout varied in less secure areas of the country, Afghans generally expressed much enthusiasm for the election — though many predict a lower turnout for the runoff, amid reports of fraud in the first round, and as the current race is widely believed to be already decided in favor of Abdullah. The candidate had a large lead on opponent Ashraf Ghani in the first round: 45 percent of the votes over Ghani's 31.6.
"In the recent presidential election, millions of Afghans went to the polls to express their defiance of the Taliban,” Davood Moradian, director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, told VICE News.
The runoff vote is set to take place on June 14.
Exiting president Hamid Karzai said in a statement cited by local reports that today's attack targeted all Afghans.
“The explosion was carried out by the enemies of the Afghan people, who do not want them to elect their future president freely in a secure environment,” he said.
Afghanistan's law rules that the election process must start over from scratch if one of the candidates is killed.
Ghani, on the campaign trail in Kandahar, also condemned the attacks.
The Taliban had pledged to use all force to disrupt the April 5 election, but while they did carry out several deadly attacks on voting day and in the weeks leading up to it, the turnout at the polls was large, if somewhat uneven, across the country’s provinces.
“In the last election, the reputation of the Taliban was seriously undermined. Before the election, they vowed to disrupt the process, but that backfired and we saw that the turnout to vote was much higher than in previous elections,” Ahmad Majidyar, an Afghan security analyst, told VICE News after the first round of the vote. “People didn’t care much about the Taliban's threats, and now they‘ll redouble their efforts to undermine the upcoming round of elections, to make up for the damage to their image last time.”
According to Reuters, Afghanistan's law rules that the election process must start over from scratch if one of the candidates is killed — a possibility that could derail the country's fragile stability at a time of both political and military transition.
While President Obama recently announced US troops will remain in Afghanistan past their original deadline, most foreign troops are still scheduled to leave the country by year's end.
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi