An Afghan official claims the Taliban is responsible for the killing of Hashmat Khalil Karzai, a cousin of outgoing Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
Dawa Khan Minapal, the government spokesman in the southern province of Kandahar, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that Karzai was assassinated by a 24-year-old suicide bomber who posed as a guest in order to gain access to Karzai’s home in Kandahar’s Dand district. The incident happened during the religious holiday Eid al-Fitr, when it is traditional to visit neighbors.
"We had alerted him three months ago to a possible Taliban attack because our intelligence information indicated that a group of Taliban operatives were planning to target him in Kandahar," Minapal said.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the assassination.
Minapal said that Karzai, one of the most influential members of the Popalzai tribe in Kandahar, was assassinated because he was a leading opponent of the Taliban and hoped for a "democratic and prosperous" Afghanistan.
Karzai was also a key campaigner for the Afghan presidential contender Ashraf Ghani, and was a leading member of the Kandahar Provincial Council.
Mohammad Yunus Fakoor, a political commentator from Kandahar, said the killing of Karzai is a "big blow" for Ghani.
"I think a key pillar of a possible future Ghani government was broken, and he will not find an alternative to Karzai in southern Afghanistan," he said.
Karzai was behind Ghani’s victory in Kandahar in the presidential runoff on June 14, according to Fakoor.
"It is said that Hashmat Karzai could have been appointed as Kandahar’s governor or the administrator for the four key southern provinces,” he added.
Considered an influential power broker and landowner in Kandahar, Karzai was also involved in a land dispute with President Karzai and his family, Fakoor said.
This is not the first time that a member of President Karzai’s family has been targeted in Kandahar. In July 2011, his powerful half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, was killed in his Kandahar home by one of his bodyguards.
Hashmat Karzai led a private security company. According to Fakoor, he was also considered a rival to Kandahar’s powerful Police Chief Abdul Raziq, who is said to be a close confidant of President Kazari.
Karzai’s assassination comes at a crucial time in Afghanistan, as an internationally-supervised audit of all eight million ballots cast in the presidential run-off is underway.