KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber attacked a popular sporting event in northern Afghanistan Wednesday, killing eight people including relatives of the Afghan parliamentary speaker, as a crowd of thousands commemorated the coming Persian new year.
Spectators said the attacker targeted the family of Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi, speaker of the lower house of parliament. Ibrahimi’s brother, father, nephew and cousin were among the dead, said Amanuddin Quraishi, governor of Imam Sahib district in Kunduz province, where the attack took place.
The bomber struck after a match of buzkashi, an Afghan sport that is similar to polo but played with a goat carcass instead of a ball, and that was the subject of a short film that was nominated for an Oscar last month, “Buzkashi Boys.” Tournaments are held across northern Afghanistan on the eve of Nowruz, the Persian new year.
Ibrahimi’s family members, who hail from northern Kunduz province, had participated in the match and were heading to their cars when spectators heard a loud explosion. Amanullah Nabizada, a member of the Kunduz provincial council, said he saw several victims lying on the ground, including Ibrahimi’s brother, who was the district police chief.
Two police officers also were killed, officials said, and at least 13 people were wounded.
“This was the final day of the tournament,” Nabizada said. “It was a large crowd. The attack was organized.”
It was the latest in a spate of violence across Afghanistan this month, raising fears of another bloody springtime “fighting season,” when Taliban and allied insurgents typically take advantage of warmer weather to increase attacks. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Separately Wednesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S.-led military coalition appeared no closer to resolving a deepening dispute over the transfer of a key American-run detention facility to Afghan control.
After meeting with Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Karzai signaled in a statement that he would release “all those who are innocent” but still being held at the prison at Bagram air base. U.S. officials have sought assurances from Karzai that the Afghan government continue to detain without charges several dozen prisoners whom the Obama administration views as security threats.
Dunford said the coalition was committed to transferring the prison to Afghan control but offered no date for when that would be done.
“It must be done in a way that meets the needs of Afghan sovereignty while mitigating the real threats that some of these detainees pose to Afghan and coalition forces,” Dunford said. “We will complete the transfer when the remaining issues have been resolved.”
A handover ceremony for the prison, which has an Afghan administrator but is still U.S.-run, was abruptly canceled last Saturday, adding to the troubled relations between Washington and Kabul. Karzai said this week that United States benefits from Taliban violence because it offers a pretext for keeping American troops in Afghanistan — comments that U.S. officials dismissed as ridiculous.