KABUL — Burhanuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan’s former president tasked with finding a peace deal with the Taliban was assassinated Tuesday in a suicide attack at his Kabul home, according to police.
Rabbani, who was president during the chaotic 1992-96 Afghan civil war, was last year appointed chief of the High Council for Peace that President Hamid Karzai tasked with negotiating with the Taliban, so far unsuccessfully.
His death is the arguably the most high-profile political assassination since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban from power 10 years ago and comes just two months after Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai was also killed.
“An explosion happened inside the house of Burhanuddin Rabbani as a result of which Rabbani was martyred and several others were wounded,” said Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai.
The bomber struck close to the US embassy. It was the second attack within a week to strike within Kabul’s supposedly secure diplomatic zone.
An AFP reporter saw an ambulance at the scene and said police had blocked off surrounding roads.
The reporter also heard guards at the house shouting for an ambulance for Rabbani’s deputy, Mohammad Masoom Stanikzai.
There was no immediate official confirmation of whether Stanikzai was injured and no visible damage from outside the house.
Two of the former president’s political allies, who did not want to be named and speaking before police confirmed Rabbani’s death, wept as they told AFP he had been killed.
“Yes, he is dead,” said one of the two sources by telephone.
The Taliban were not immediately reachable for comment, but the insurgency led by its militia has hit Kabul increasingly hard in recent months.
Among the most high-profile attacks was last week’s 20-hour siege of the US embassy and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters which left 14 people dead.
Rabbani was president of Afghanistan from 1992 until the Taliban took power in 1996 and headed a country wracked by civil war.
Karzai’s brainchild, the High Peace Council was intended to open a dialogue with insurgents who have been trying to bring down his government since the US-led invasion overthrew their regime in late 2001.
The 68-member council, hand-picked by the president, was inaugurated on October 7, 2010, amid mounting reports of secret peace talks with Taliban leaders and key insurgent groups.
Delivering his acceptance speech, Rabbani said he was “confident” that peace was possible, according to a statement from the palace.
“I hope we are able to take major steps in bringing peace and fulfil our duties with tireless effort and help from God,” he was quoted as saying.
According to Human Rights Watch, Rabbani is among prominent Afghans implicated in war crimes during the brutal fighting that killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghans in the early 1990s.