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Bomb kills Muslim pilgrimages chief

A bomb attack in Afghanistan's volatile southern city of Kandahar has killed the director of the local office for facilitating pilgrimages to Islamic holy sites, police said.

One other person was killed in the attack on Mohammad Hassan Taimuri and two people were wounded, Kandahar police chief Sher Mohammed Zazai said.

The bomb appeared to be a remote-controlled device concealed on a motorcycle which exploded as Mr Taimuri was leaving his office, according to witness Asad Jan Aghra.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility and it was not clear why anyone would target the director, whose job makes him responsible for managing Islamic religious institutions and arranging pilgrimages to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The pilgrimages are called the hajj, which Muslims are obligated to make at least once in a lifetime.

However, Taliban insurgents who are highly active in Kandahar routinely target government figures and institutions. The city is a long-time stronghold of their hardline Islamic movement and the focus of the American-led operation against the insurgents.

Assassinations of serving and retired government officials - including police - have become virtually a daily occurrence in recent weeks, according to residents, who blame the local authorities for failing to secure the city. Amid the general atmosphere of lawlessness, not all violence is blamed on the Taliban.

"Kandahar city has become an open place for thieves and insurgents. The government is failing and putting their failure on the shoulders of the Taliban," taxi driver Niyamat Agha said.

The attacks on civilians come amid a particularly bloody stretch for the international coalition in Afghanistan, with 19 US service members killed in only four days - most in the south.

The US death toll for the month stood at 56 - three-quarters of them in the second half of the month as the Taliban fight back against US pressure. American losses accounted for more than 70% of the 76 fatalities suffered by the entire Nato-led force.

Until the late surge, it appeared that the death toll for August would be well below the back-to-back monthly records of 66 in July and 60 in June.

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