KABUL — Security guards shot dead a suicide bomber on Sunday who tried to assassinate Afghan Interior Minister Bismullah Khan in an area north of Kabul, a spokesman for the ministry told AFP.
The failed attempt on Khan, who once fought against the Taliban, comes as the north of Afghanistan -- an area over the past decade relatively insulated from the insurgency -- has seen an uptick in violence.
The attacker attempted to detonate his explosives on a convoy of cars sent in advance of the minister's vehicle, perhaps thinking Khan was inside, as he was being taken to visit the Panjshir valley, said spokesman Siddiq Siddiqui.
"I can confirm a failed assassination attempt on the minister, a suicide bomber was involved, no casualties," said Siddiqui.
He said the minister had wanted to go to Panjshir -- a stronghold of anti-Taliban resistance hit by its first suicide attack in the war last week -- and a convoy of four cars had been sent in advance as a security measure.
"In Sayed Khail (a district of Parwan province) a suicide attacker runs toward this convoy, but gets shot by bodyguards before being able to detonate himself," said Siddiqui.
"The minister was in another convoy around 15 or 20 minutes behind the first convoy."
The spokesman said the attacker was in his early 20s and was injured in the shooting, and later died from his wounds.
Khan is an ethnic Tajik former anti-Soviet commander who fought the Taliban alongside Afghanistan's northern hero Ahmad Shah Masood and was appointed to the interior ministry post in June last year.
He is a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami political party that was led by the former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, the chief broker for peace in the 10-year Afghan war until he was killed at his home in Kabul last month.
Governor of Parwan Abdul Basir Salangi said the latest attack took place in mid-afternoon when the convoy had parked for prayers on the road between Sayed Khail and Gulbahar districts.
"A suicide attacker hiding under a bridge approached the convoy. The bodyguards saw him and shot him. He had a suicide vest on, but the explosives didn't explode," Salangi said.
Police chief of Parwan Sher Ahmad Maladani said the bomber's body was in police custody and "we are trying to untie his explosives-filled vest from his body".
Last weekend four suicide bombers struck at the gates of Panjshir's Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), a civil-military NATO outfit, targeting the only foreign military presence in the province, in the first suicide attack in the area since the war began in late 2001.
Panjshir, a predominantly ethnic Tajik area handed from NATO control to Afghan forces in July, was never controlled by the Taliban during their 1996-2001 rule over Afghanistan.