KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — An assassin struck at the heart of President Hamid Karzai's political machine in southern Afghanistan Wednesday, killing the mayor of Kandahar with an exploding turban and deepening a power vacuum in the Taliban's main stronghold.
The slaying of Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi was the third killing of a Karzai associate in a little more than two weeks. The attacks have jeopardized the Afghan government's tenuous grip on the strategic south after recent success in routing the Taliban.
On July 12, a close associate gunned down Karzai's powerful half brother at his home in Kandahar. Five days later, Karzai's inner circle suffered another hit when gunmen in Kabul killed Jan Mohammad Khan, a presidential adviser on tribal issues and a former governor of Uruzgan province, which is also in the south.
Hamidi, 65, was slain inside a heavily fortified government compound just before he was to meet with local residents caught up in a land dispute, according to Mohammed Nabi, an employee of the mayor's office. The attacker was holding a piece of paper and trying to talk to the mayor when he detonated a bomb hidden inside his turban, said Nabi, who witnessed the killing.
"After that, there was some shooting," he said. "I hid behind a wall. The windows were shattered. There was dark smoke."
One civilian was also killed and another civilian and a security guard were wounded, the governor's office said.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility, calling the killing a "big blow" to the Karzai administration.