Taliban insurgents have claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in northern Afghanistan that authorities say killed at least 14 people, including a senior provincial politician.
Sadeq Muradi, Baghlan Province's deputy police chief, said a suicide bomber on foot detonated his explosives in front of the provincial council building in the city of Pol-e Khomri on May 20.
Provincial council chief Rasoul Mohseni was among the dead, along with several bodyguards and a number of civilians.
Mohseni had reportedly received numerous death threats. Baghlan is located in the north and is relatively more peaceful than other parts of Afghanistan, but it sees regular attacks by Taliban insurgents.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to journalists.
The attack came one day after at least 10 Afghan police were killed in separate incidents.
Insurgents have been carrying out attacks and assassinations intended to intimidate both officials and civilians ahead of next year's withdrawal of most international troops.
But Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi told a news briefing in Kabul that Afghan security forces are strong enough to defend the country after the pullout.
"[The Taliban] believes that by the end of 2014, as foreign combat forces withdraw from Afghanistan, they can bring about change to the country," Azimi said, "but we assure the people of Afghanistan and call on Afghanistan's enemies that by no means their threat will bring any change to Afghanistan."
Azimi said the violence showed that extremists are losing grassroots support among Afghans.
"Insurgent and Taliban activities have recently increased in Afghanistan," the spokesman said, adding in a reference to the religious schools that are frequently blamed for inciting Islamism-fueled violence. "Our findings show that all madrasahs which could provide support to insurgents have been shut. Insurgents are putting their efforts in suicide and mass attacks."
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack which he blamed on "enemies of Afghanistan." Karzai said that the attack was "a cowardly act against all Islamic teachings and human values."
Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and RFE/RL