A cousin and close associate of outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai was assassinated today by a suicide bomber who hid his explosives under his turban, a provincial official said.
The bomber walked up to the home of Hashmat Khalil Karzai to greet him after morning prayers for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, and detonated the explosives after shaking hands with the president's cousin, said the official.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which was reminiscent of the September 2011 killing of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who at the time was the leader of a government-appointed peace council seeking reconciliation with militants.
In that attack, an insurgent posing as a Taliban peace envoy detonated a bomb that was hidden in his turban as he met Rabbani at his home in Kabul.
Today's attack took place at the reception room for guests at the Karzai family home in southern Kandahar province's district of Karz, according to Dawa Khan Minapal, the provincial governor's spokesman.
Hashmat, a political figure in his own right, has been his cousin's staunch supporter and has also backed former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai's bid to succeed President Karzai.
It was not the first time that Karzai's family members have been targeted. The president's powerful half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, who was the head of the provincial council, was slain in his home in the city of Kandahar by his bodyguard in July 2011.
The attack comes at a sensitive time in Afghanistan as an audit is taking place under international supervision of all 8 million ballots cast last month in the second round of the country's presidential election. The process is key to insuring a peaceful transfer of power ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of the year.
The two presidential contenders, Ahmadzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, are awaiting the results of the audit.
President Karzai yesterday appealed for a speedy conclusion to the audit that will determine his successor, saying that Afghanistan urgently needs a new president. His slain cousin Hashmat ran a private security company and was also on Ahmadzai's election campaign team as campaign manager for Kandahar.