Afghan market blast kills 17
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A suspected suicide bomber killed at least 17 people and wounded almost 50 in a crowded bazaar in southern Afghanistan on Monday, the latest attack in a surge of violence in the Taliban heartland.
Several children were among those killed or hurt in the blast in Lashkar Gah, capital of the province of Helmand.
The head of the city's emergency hospital, Rahmatullah, said at least 47 people were wounded, all of them civilians.
One of those killed was Naw Khan Noorzai, provincial police chief in the 1990s, Helmand government spokesman Mahaiuddin said.
"There was a suicide incident, but we do not know what the target was," he said. Another official said the bomb may have exploded prematurely.
Since their overthrow in 2001, the Taliban and their Islamic allies have carried out scores of suicide attacks against Afghan and foreign forces, often killing many civilians as well.
Fighting across Afghanistan is now at its worst since 2001, mostly in the south and east bordering or near Pakistan, the Taliban's former backer accused by some Afghan leaders and intelligence officers of still supporting its former protege.
About 2,000 people, most of them militants, but also civilians, aid workers, Afghan forces and more than 90 foreign soldiers have been killed this year.
The violence is a mix of opposition to Afghan authorities and foreign forces, the drugs trade, tribe wars and crime.
The Taliban, which denies targeting civilians, could not be immediately contacted for comment.
Monday's attack is one of the worst involving civilians in recent months. Three weeks ago, at least 21 civilians were killed in Kandahar province, bordering Paksitan, when a suicide bomber attacked a NATO patrol.
The rising violence in the south has also come as NATO forces take over the region from U.S. troops to allow Washington to scale back its numbers in Afghanistan.
Several NATO soldiers, mainly British and Canadian, have died since the alliance took over on July 31 in its biggest land operation in its history.