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Afghan ex-minister escapes assassination attempt

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AMIR SHAH | January 24, 2014 06:09 AM EST | AP

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An influential former Afghan warlord who served as water and energy minister in a previous administration narrowly escaped an assassination attempt Friday in the country's western Herat province, a police spokesman said.

Ismail Khan — who is also running as vice president for one of the candidates in the April 5 presidential election — was attacked after mid-day prayers, said police spokesman Abdul Raouf Ahmadi.

Khan was coming out of the mosque in Herat city, the provincial capital, when the bomber set off his explosives. No one except the would-be suicide bomber was killed in the explosion, said Ahmadi. Khan could not be reached for comment.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which underscored some of the challenges Afghanistan faces ahead of the election, a vote that will help shape the country's future following the departure of foreign combat troops.

In 2010, President Hamid Karzai had wanted to keep Khan — a Tajik who was a prominent warlord during the civil war of the 1990s and who retains considerable local power among his minority — in his administration, but the nomination was narrowly defeated. Critics said keeping Khan would have proven Karzai remained beholden to regional power brokers at the expense of the country's national interests.

Khan, 67, is now running as VP on the ticket of presidential contender, Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, also a former warlord. Karzai can't run for a third consecutive term and has not yet endorsed anyone. There are no clear favorites in the race.

Both Sayyaf and Khan were known as warlords during Afghanistan's civil war from 1992 until the Taliban takeover in 1996, fighting on the side of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban. Previously, both also actively participated in the war against the Soviet occupation.

In other violence, a gunman on a motorcycle opened fire at a group of local cricket players, killing five of them during a game in eastern Laghman province before he sped away, provincial spokesman Sarhadii Zhouak said Friday.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which took place on Thursday in Alinghar district, but Zhouak blamed the Taliban. When the Taliban ruled the country, they severely restricted sports and public celebrations.

Karzai on Friday issued a statement condemning the attack and the killing of Afghan sportsmen.

Elsewhere, spokesman Omar Zwak in southern Helmand province said police found the body of slain journalist Noor Ahmad Noori late on Thursday night. The 30-year-old Nouri, who worked for the local Radio Busd had been abducted earlier in the day and his body was found in a sack, badly burned, said Zwak.