KABUL // A suicide bomber posing as an army volunteer struck an Afghan army recruitment centre in the northern province of Kunduz today, killing at least 33 people, Afghan officials said.
Militants appear to be waging an intense campaign to frighten people from working with security forces and the Afghan government in Kunduz, the target of escalating suicide bombings over the past two years. Violence has increased in the north as international forces have flooded into Taliban strongholds in the south.
Today's attack was the second suicide bombing in five days in Kunduz, where al Qa'eda, the Taliban and numerous other militant groups, including one from neighbouring Uzbekistan, have increased their presence.
The attacker approached on foot and detonated his explosives vest among a group of army volunteers lined up outside the recruitment centre, said the deputy governor of Kunduz, Hamdullah Danishi
Ambulances and private cars brought at least 42 wounded to the Kunduz hospital, provincial government spokesman Muhbobullah Sayedi said.
Humayun Khamush, a doctor at the hospital, aid: "We have 33 bodies, including soldiers and civilians." Four children were also killed, he said.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing, promised retribution against those responsible and expressed condolences to survivors.
The same recruitment centre was targeted in an attack in December which killed eight soldiers and policemen. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.
Kunduz and surrounding provinces are known hide-outs for the Taliban, al Qa'eda and fighters from militant factions that include the Haqqani network, Hizb-i-Islami and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The province is also a major agricultural and transit centre along a main highway into Tajikistan. Nato increased convoys in the north after shipments from Pakistan came under more frequent attack.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing Ton hursday that killed the Kunduz police chief, Abdul Rahman Sayedkhili, and two of his bodyguards as they walked through the city.
In February, a suicide bomber killed 30 people waiting in line for identification cards at another government office.
In October, the Kunduz governor, Mohammad Omar, was killed by a suicide bomber as he prayed in a mosque in neighbouring Takhar province. Nineteen other worshippers were killed in the blast.
The assassination took place days after he publicly warned that Taliban and foreign fighters were increasing their presence in the north.
Meanwhile, in the south, a civilian car struck a roadside bomb in Zabul province's Mazana district, setting off an explosion that killed all three men inside, government spokesman Mohammad Rasoolyar said.
To the east, a bomb blast Monday morning killed three Afghan civilians in Nangarhar province's Sorkh Rod district, the interior ministry said. The ministry did not provide further details.
In more hopeful developments, in Kandahar province, a longtime Taliban stronghold where Nato forces have been trying to regain control, a well-known insurgent fighter agreed to join with the government today.
Azizullah Agha told reporters he was laying down his weapons along with 20 other insurgent fighters because too many foreigners had joined the insurgency and because he did not like that they were burning down schools. He spoke at a press conference at the offices of the Afghan intelligence agency in Kandahar city.
Nato officials have said they hope to see more of these defections, but so far they have been small and scattered.