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Suicide bomber targets NATO troops, Afghan police

April 4, 2012 |  7:31 am

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This story has been updated. See the note below.

REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- A suicide bomber attacked a group of NATO service members and Afghan security officials in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least six people and injuring 26 others, provincial and police officials said.

The bombing occurred in Maimanah, the capital of Faryab province along the border with Turkmenistan. It was unclear whether any of the dead were NATO personnel. Alliance officials said that three coalition service members died in a bombing in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, but they would not indicate whether they were killed in the attack in Faryab. Nor did the organization release the nationalities of the dead soldiers.

[Updated April 4, 1:32 p.m.: However, a U.S. military official later confirmed that three of the dead were American soldiers. The official requested anonymity because the military was still informing next of kin.]

The attack in Faryab was carried out at a city park where NATO service members were gathering with Afghan security officials and police, said Abdul Haq Shafaq, Faryab’s governor. Shafaq said the bomber was on foot, but Lal Mohammad Ahmad Zai, a police spokesman for northern Afghanistan, said the attacker was on a motorcycle.

There were also conflicting reports on the number dead. Shafaq put the death toll at six, including an Afghan military interpreter and five civilians. However, Zai said at least 10 people died, including four Afghan police officers.

Afghan intelligence officers poring over the scene said the bomber may have been wearing an Afghan police uniform, according to Shafaq.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.

Though Faryab is regarded as a relatively quiet province, it is also believed to be a stronghold for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, an Al Qaeda-linked militant group that for years has fought alongside Taliban insurgents battling Western coalition troops in Afghanistan.

Last month, a team of Western coalition and Afghan security forces in Faryab province killed the IMU’s Afghanistan leader, Makhdum Nusrat, and several other IMU fighters. Nusrat was responsible for a series of attacks on Afghan and coalition troops in northern Afghanistan, NATO officials said.

The bombing in Faryab was the latest in a series of attacks by Taliban insurgents in recent weeks, a step-up that reflects the onset of the spring fighting season. During winter, fighting in Afghanistan typically slows, as heavy snow blankets mountain passes used by insurgents to get into the country from their safe havens in Pakistan’s largely lawless tribal areas.

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--Aimal Yaqubi in Kabul and Alex Rodriguez in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Photo: Wounded U.S. soldiers lie on the ground at the scene of a suicide attack in Maimanah, the capital of Faryab province north of Kabul. Credit: Gul Buddin Elham / Associated Press

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