KABUL, Afghanistan - At least 17 people were killed and dozens wounded in a double bomb blast in the southern town of Kandahar yesterday, shattering the optimism of the country just a day after it adopted a new constitution.
At least eight children were among the dead, and 58 people were wounded, said a statement from the office of President Hamid Karzai.
The first bomb, in a gas cylinder, exploded but did not injure anyone. The second was far bigger and went off 10 to 15 minutes later in the same place, killing and wounding many people who had gathered at the site of the first blast, said Mohammad Nabi Majrooh, head of the police criminal investigation department in Kandahar.
The governor of Kandahar, Yousuf Pashtun, blamed the Taliban, the militant Islamic movement ousted from leadership in Afghanistan, for the blasts, which took place in the middle of the day.
"They are terrorists, they are coming from Pakistan and they are killing innocent people," Pashtun said in comments on Kandahar Television.
Karzai condemned the attack as an "act of cruelty and barbarism," and said it would only strengthen his resolve to fight militants in Afghanistan.
The lethal bomb had been laid underground and was probably set off by remote control, Majrooh said. Twisted wrecks of bicycles were strewn around the bomb site and at least one truck was destroyed by the blast, television footage showed.
American soldiers took 26 wounded children to the hospital at the U.S. air base on the edge of Kandahar, said the deputy governor, Mohammad Anas.
Officials suggested that the militants had been targeting police and security officials, or even American soldiers, who might gather at the site of the first blast.
But the victims were mainly children from the nearby Abdul Ahad Karzai primary school, named after the president's father who was assassinated by Taliban agents five years ago.
"Lots of children ran to see what had happened," Majrooh said.
"They did not kill any government people, but small children coming out from school," the governor said.
Majrooh warned people not to converge on the site of any explosion but to evacuate immediately in case similar double bombs were placed in the city.
"We had information that the Taliban was going to explode several bombs in Kandahar," the governor said. "We found four bombs in recent days but unfortunately we did not find this one before it exploded."
Soldiers caught two suspects fleeing the scene, and were searching for four more men, he said.
The governor has warned that the Taliban would turn to violence in urban areas and aim at soft civilian targets in an effort to undermine the government and stall reconstruction and investment efforts.