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Afghan Vice-Presidential Candidate Survives Ambush

President Hamid Karzai (left) with Mohammad Qasim Fahim at the Independent Election Commission in Kabul in May
KONDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- One of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's vice-presidential running mates in next month's election has escaped unhurt from an ambush by Taliban insurgents, officials said.

Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the former head of an alliance that toppled the Taliban in 2001, was ambushed on a road in northern Konduz Province, where he was campaigning on Karzai's behalf for the August 20 poll, said senior campaign official Zalmai Mujadidi.

Konduz Governor Mohammad Omar said Fahim was traveling by road to adjacent Takhar province on the afternoon on July 26 when his convoy was attacked by insurgents.

"Fahim is alive and fine," Omar told Reuters in Kunduz.

One of Fahim's bodyguards was wounded in the attack, in which an unidentified number of insurgents used small and heavy-weapons fire against Fahim's convoy, Mujadidi said.

Second Attack In A Week

Fahim, an ethnic Tajik and once a leading opposition figure, was nominated by Karzai as one of two vice presidential running mates in May as Karzai sought to solidify fragmenting support by drawing former opponents into his reelection campaign.

It was the second attack on a candidate in less than a week.

On July 22, Mullah Salam Rocketi, a former Taliban commander and now one of 38 candidates challenging Karzai, was also ambushed as he returned to Kabul after campaigning in northern Baghlan.

Rocketi -- who took his name because of his liking for firing rocket-propelled grenades at occupying Soviet troops -- was also unhurt.

The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the latest attack on Fahim, a former deputy leader and defense minister under Karzai.

"We killed four of Fahim's bodyguards," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

International observers have identified poor security, especially in Taliban strongholds in the south, as one of the main stumbling blocks confronting the poll, Afghanistan's second direct vote for president.

Attacks across the country have increased since thousands of U.S. Marines and British troops launched major operations in Helmand Province in the south earlier this month.

Fahim survived another attempt on his life while he was campaigning in the eastern city of Jalalabad during the 2004 election campaign.