Insurgents killed a vice mayor of the southern city of Kandahar while he was praying at a mosque, an official said on Tuesday, the latest brazen attack on government officials in the volatile region where troops are preparing for an assault on Taliban forces.
Assailants entered the mosque and shot Azizullah Yarmal while he and dozens of others were praying during services on Monday night, said Zalmai Ayubi, spokesman for the surrounding province, also called Kandahar.
The assailants escaped and no arrests were made, Mr. Ayubi said. Mosques typically provide little security, making them vulnerable to insurgent death squads.
Mr. Ayubi said the assassination was among a series of killings of government workers in southern Afghanistan aimed at undermining central authority by terrorizing competent individuals into leaving their posts and punishing those who defy the insurgents.
“This is the work of the enemies of Afghanistan. They don’t want these honest people to serve the Afghan people and work in government institutions,” Mr. Ayubi said.
He said Yarmal was not known to have any powerful enemies or to be involved in any disputes, and had worked to obtain funds for road building and other development projects in the city that was the birthplace of the hard-line Islamic Taliban militia and where they continue to enjoy considerable support.
Insurgents were believed to have been behind the murder last week of an elderly tribal leader in volatile Helmand next door to Kandahar. Lal Mohammad Khan was also shot while praying in a mosque in Helmand’s Gereshk district.
Mr. Ayubi said other murdered officials included the head of Kandahar’s provincial department of information and culture and a former police official who was gunned down despite having left his post three years earlier following threats from the Taliban.
President Barack Obama has ordered 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan in part to back up forces preparing for an upcoming major drive against the Taliban in Kandahar.
Changes in strategy have involved pulling back troops from vulnerable, isolated outposts, and video footage released Monday showed insurgents strolling through a mountaintop base abandoned last week by the U.S. military following some of the toughest fighting of the Afghan war.
The fighters claimed the U.S. withdrawal from the Korengal Valley near the border with Pakistan as a victory for their cause, although the U.S. insists the pullback from the base was sound and the area has no strategic value.
The footage showed armed men walking through the former U.S. base, which was strewn with litter and empty bottles, and sitting atop sandbagged gun positions overlooking the steep hillsides and craggy landscape. Fighters said they recovered fuel and ammunition. But a U.S. spokesman said ammunition had been evacuated and the fuel handed over to local residents.