KABUL, Afghanistan — Suicide bombers launched multiple attacks in a remote corner of southwestern Afghanistan near the Iranian border Tuesday, killing dozens of people including shoppers buying sweets for a Muslim holiday.
A separate market bombing, this one in northern Afghanistan, brought the overall death toll to 46, most of whom were civilians. It was the deadliest day for Afghan civilians this year.
The attacks in provinces on opposite ends of the country — Nimroz in the southwest and Kunduz in the north — come as Taliban insurgents and their allies step up their assaults in a display of force that often results in civilian carnage. Militants are especially trying to weaken the still-developing Afghan security forces, who are to assume control of security across their homeland in 28 months when most foreign combat troops will have left.
"The Taliban want to expand their influence — show that they are everywhere," said Afghan political analyst Jawid Kohistani. "They want to show that the Afghan police are not strong enough so they are targeting the security forces and the government."
The scope of the attacks in Nimroz, which has seen relatively few insurgent attacks over the past year, was surprising. The bombings took place in the provincial capital, Zaranj, where militants wearing suicide vests detonated their explosives in various neighborhoods, provincial police chief Musa Rasouli said. At least 25 civilians and 11 police were killed, he said.
The Nimroz provincial capital lies about 6 miles from the Iranian border. Police arrested three attackers who later apparently confessed that they were from Zahedan, the capital of Iran's Sistan and Baluchistan province near the Afghan border, according to Sadeq Chakhansori, a member of the Nimroz provincial council. The significance of this was not immediately clear.
Authorities said the casualties would have been far higher had they not learned of the plot beforehand. Police killed two potential attackers Monday night and captured three Tuesday morning. But they could not catch them all.
Rasouli said three suicide bombers detonated their explosive vests. Most of the casualties were from a bombing in a shopping bazaar in front of a hospital. The area was crowded with shoppers from the city and outlying areas who were buying dried fruit, cookies and other sweets for the coming Muslim holiday of Eid.
Three more attackers, also clad in explosive vests, tried to strike the governor's house, but Afghan police killed them before they were able to blow themselves up, Rasouli said.
Tuesday's other major attack, in northern Kunduz province, involved a bomb on a motorcycle that was parked outside a crowded bazaar in Archi district. The attack killed at least 10 people, including five children, and wounded at least 25 others, according to Hamid Agha, the police chief for Archi district.
Altogether, at least 35 civilians were killed in the attacks in the two provinces.