President Hamid Karzai's half brother, the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan, has been assassinated by one of his friends, leaving a dangerous power vacuum in the country.
Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the Kandahar provincial council, was shot while receiving guests at his home in Kandahar, the capital of the province that was the birthplace of the Taliban movement and was the site of a recent Western offensive.
Tooryalai Wesa, the provincial governor of Kandahar, identified the assassin as Sardar Mohammad and said he was a close, "trustworthy" person who had gone to Wali Karzai's house to get him to sign some papers.
As Wali Karzai was signing the papers, the assassin "took out a pistol and shot him with two bullets - one in the forehead and one in the chest," Mr Wesa said. The killer was himself shot dead by guards.
"This morning my younger brother Ahmed Wali Karzai was murdered in his home," the Afghan president said ."Such is the life of Afghanistan's people. In the houses of the people of Afghanistan, each of us is suffering and our hope is, God willing, to remove this suffering from the people of Afghanistan and implement peace and stability."
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination at the heavily guarded house, hidden behind blast walls. The Interior Ministry said an investigation was under way, and Kandahar Police Chief Gen. Abdul Raziq said police have detained several men who were guarding the home for questioning.
Wali Karzai, who was in his 50s and had survived several previous assassination attempts, was seen by many as a political liability for the Karzai government after a series of allegations, including that he was on the CIA payroll and involved in drug trafficking. He denied the charges. The president repeatedly challenged his accusers to show him evidence of his sibling's wrongdoing, but said nobody ever could.
Wali Karzai remained a key power broker in the south, helping shore up his family's interests in the Taliban's southern heartland, which has been the site of numerous offensives by US, coalition and Afghan troops to root out insurgents. Militants have retaliated by intimidating and killing local government officials or others against the Taliban.
The United Nations said that more than half of all assassinations across Afghanistan since March had been in Kandahar. In April, the Kandahar police chief Khan Mohammad Mujahid was killed by a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform who blew himself up beside the official's car.
In Kabul, the political elite reacted to the killing with shock and concern about the future of the country's southern region and beyond. Though Wali Karzai held an elected office in the provincial council, people who knew him said he seemed to float above the various political and tribal spheres dominating the south. Throngs of people came to his house on a daily basis seeking remedies for everything from family disputes, to tribal battles, to political intrigues.