Taliban governor of Afghan province killed in suicide attack

Taliban security personnel (R) block a road in Mazar-i-Sharif on 9 March, 2023, following a blast at the office of Taliban governor of Afghanistan’s Balkh provinceAFP

The Taliban governor of Afghanistan’s Balkh province was killed at his office on Thursday in a suicide attack that was later claimed by the Islamic State group.

The killing of Mohammad Dawood Muzammil, the provincial governor, marked one of the highest-level attacks since the Taliban stormed back to power in 2021. A second person also died in the attack, police said.

An IS fighter waited for the governor at his office and “rushed towards him, detonating his explosive belt,” the jihadist group said in a statement on its Amaq news agency, as translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

Muzammil had met just a day earlier with top government officials visiting from Kabul.

Violence across Afghanistan has dramatically dropped since the Taliban seized control, but the security situation has again deteriorated with IS claiming several deadly attacks.

“Two people, including Mohammad Dawood Muzammil, the governor of Balkh, have been killed in an explosion this morning,” local police spokesman Asif Waziri told AFP, adding that the blast happened on the second floor of his office, in the provincial capital Mazar-i-Sharif.

“It was a suicide attack. We don’t have information as to how the suicide bomber reached the office of the governor,” he said, adding that two people were also wounded.

The explosion happened moments after the governor arrived in his office, said Khairuddin, who was wounded in the incident.

“There was a bang. I fell on the ground,” he told AFP from a hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif, adding that he witnessed a friend lose a hand in the blast.

Authorities deployed extra security at the governorate, who forbade journalists from taking photos, an AFP correspondent reported from near the site of the blast.

Muzammil was “martyred in an explosion by the enemies of Islam”, tweeted government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

Muzammil was initially appointed governor of the eastern province of Nangarhar, where he led the fight against IS jihadists, before being moved to Balkh last year.

On Wednesday, he met two deputy prime ministers and other senior officials visiting Balkh to review a major irrigation project in northern Afghanistan, according to a government statement.

IS has emerged as the biggest security challenge to the Taliban government since last year, carrying out attacks against Afghan civilians as well as foreigners and foreign interests.

IS attacks

Several attacks have rocked Balkh, including in Mazar-i-Sharif last year, some claimed by IS.

In January, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people when he blew himself up near the foreign ministry in Kabul, in an attack claimed by IS.

The Taliban and IS share an austere Sunni Islamist ideology, but the latter are fighting to establish a global “caliphate” instead of the Taliban’s more inward-looking aim of ruling an independent Afghanistan.

At least five Chinese nationals were wounded in December when gunmen stormed a hotel popular with businesspeople in Kabul.

That raid was claimed by IS, as was an attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul in December that Islamabad denounced as an “assassination attempt” against its ambassador.

Two Russian embassy staff members were killed in a suicide bombing outside their mission in September in another attack claimed by IS.