The suicide bomber who assassinated former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani insisted on meeting face-to-face with the ex-president and waited in Kabul for days to talk to him about brokering peace with the Taliban, an associate of Rabbani's said on Wednesday.
Mohammad Ismail Qasemyar, the international relations adviser for the peace council, said the bomber, identified as Esmatullah, had approached several council officials, telling them that he was an important figure in the Taliban insurgency and would only speak directly with Rabbani.
"He wanted to talk about peace with Professor Rabbani," Qasemyar said.
Qasemyar said the bomber stayed at a house used for guests of the peace council while waiting for Rabbani to return from a trip to Iran.
On Tuesday, the two met and the attacker went to shake hands with Rabbani at his home, bowing his head near the former president's chest and detonating a bomb hidden in his turban, Qasemyar said.
The US-led coalition said another attacker was also involved, but that could not be confirmed by Afghan officials. A Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the killing is still being investigated, said one person has been detained in connection with Rabbani's death.
The assassination dashed hopes for reconciling with the Taliban and raised fears about deteriorating security in Afghanistan just as foreign combat troops are starting to pull out. Some US and Canadian troops have left in recent months and all foreign combat forces are to go home or move into support roles by the end of 2014 when Afghan forces are to be in charge of protecting and defending the nation.
"Today is a sad day," said Mohammad Egris, a 25-year-old Kabul University student who was one of dozens of people and top Afghan officials who went to Rabbani's house on Wednesday morning to pay their respects. "The enemies of Afghanistan — the terrorists — continue killing our leaders and our people. The people being killed are working for peace and prosperity."
Egris called on the Afghan government and the international community to do something to root out militants planning attacks in Afghanistan from hideouts in Pakistan. Karzai has repeatedly called for the fight against militants to be waged in Pakistan instead of Afghanistan.
The Pakistani government and leaders across the world condemned the killing. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Afghan President Hamid Karzai as he rushed back to Kabul from the United States.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi, police chief in Kabul, said the Taliban were behind it.
When contacted by The Associated Press, Taliban spokesmen declined to discuss the killing.
In Washington, John Kerry, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Rabbani's assassination a "great setback" for the cause of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
"Former President Rabbani was a historic figure who fought the Taliban in the 1990s and who continued to work for peace and stability as the head of the High Peace Council," Kerry said in a statement. "Afghanistan's enemies want to use his death along with other previous attacks to destabilize the region. We cannot let that happen. Too much is at stake for the people of Afghanistan and the country's future."
Afghans at Rabbani's home blamed the Haqqani network, a militant organization based in Pakistan and affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qaida that has conducted several attacks in the capital.
Rabbani, whose death came just days after insurgents attacked the US Embassy in Kabul, was the latest high-ranking official close to Karzai to be killed by militants in recent months. Outnumbered on the battlefield, insurgents are conducting targeted attacks against officials aligned with the Afghan government and US-led coalition, lowering hopes that Afghan forces can secure the country.
"Every day they are killing," said Mirza Mohammad, a 50-year-old former Afghan Army officer from Parwan province. "The killing of Rabbani has brought chaos to Afghanistan."
Mohammad, who was among those paying respects Wednesday at Rabbani's home in Kabul, called for a national uprising. "We will soon get revenge," he said. "Pakistan is behind this attack."
Meanwhile, in the Waghaz district of eastern Ghazni province, nine Afghan policemen were killed Tuesday evening while they were trying to defuse a roadside bomb, said Gen. Zirawer Zahid, provincial police chief.
And in the south, two NATO service members were killed in an insurgent attack, the alliance said in a statement Wednesday. NATO did not provide further details.
Including the latest deaths, at least 28 international troops have been killed so far this month in Afghanistan.