The assassination of Ahmad Wali Karzai, a brother of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, in his hometown of Kandahar leaves a potentially dangerous power vacuum in the country’s restive south.
Afghan officials say Karzai, who was head of the Kandahar Provincial Council, was shot dead on July 12 inside his home in the southern city.
Local officials said the assassination was carried out by Sardar Muhammad, a close associate of the Karzai family.
Muhammad was a long-serving former bodyguard of Ahmad Wali's older brother, Qayum, and a trusted man in the family. Some other reports, however, said Sardar Mohammad was a member of Ahmad Wali Karzai's own security detail.
At a news conference the day of the killing, Kandahar Governor Tooryalai Wesa said Muhammad had been “misled” into carrying out the assassination.
"The person who killed Ahmad Wali Karzai was very close to him," Wesa said. "He was going to his office most often. He has held police and military posts. He has been responsible for road and street security. No one ever thought that [Sardar Muhammad] would take such action. He knew [Ahmad Wali Karzai's] family. He was eating at the same table with Ahmad Wali Karzai's family. Yet it is unclear who misled him into this action. Unfortunately, it has happened. It is an irreparable and unforgivable incident."
'Life Of The Afghan People'
President Karzai confirmed his brother's assassination when he appeared at a joint press conference with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy, saying the killing reflected the sorrow of the Afghan people.
"As you have already heard, my younger brother Ahmad Wali Karzai was martyred today at his home. This is the life of the Afghan people," he said. "In each household in Afghanistan, we have experienced such misery. We hope that the sufferings of the Afghan people come to an end, God willing, and that peace and a security prevail in our country so that no Afghan family ever again faces the pains and suffering we've all experienced."
The president has traveled to Kandahar
for the funeral.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the assassination, calling it one of their "biggest achievements."
A spokesman for the group told the AFP news agency that the Taliban had assigned a gunman to kill the powerful politician.
However, officials say it remains unclear whether the killing was the result of a Taliban plot, an internal feud, or whether other motives existed.
President Karzai has flown to Kandahar to attend his brother’s funeral, set for July 13.
Although the investigation is ongoing, details have begun to emerge about how the assassination was carried out.
Kandahar Governor Wesa and Kandahar police chief Abdul Raziq said Ahmad Wali Karzai was receiving guests in his home when Sardar Muhammad approached him under the guise of handing him some documents. Muhammad then reportedly shot Karzai in the head and chest.
Guards then shot the assassin dead.
Raziq said police detained several of Muhammad’s guards for questioning and had increased security in Kandahar.
The assassination comes the same month that U.S. troops are scheduled to begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan and heightens existing doubts about stability and leadership in the country.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland repeated the White House's condemnation of the assassination.
"We condemn the murder of Karzai. We express our condolences to his family, including to President Karzai," she said. "We have tried for quite some time to work with governors around Afghanistan, and this is not an appropriate way to deal with issues."
She also said there was no causal link between the killing and impending U.S. troop reductions.
General David Petraeus, the outgoing top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the country would support the government “in every possible way to bring justice to those involved.”
The 49-year-old Ahmad Wali Karzai was considered one of the most influential and controversial politicians in Afghanistan and is believed to have made many enemies.
He had previously survived at least two assassination attempts, including an attack on his convoy in 2009.
In 2008, a powerful blast occurred near a government building where Karzai was chairing a meeting. He blamed the Taliban for the attack, which killed six people and wounded dozens more.
Ahmad Wali Karzai was an ally of the U.S. and the West. But he had also been dogged by allegations of corruption and links to the drugs trade and he was accused of having a personal militia at his disposal.
Karzai had been seen by some as a political liability for the president, who repeatedly defended his brother and denied accusations of his involvement in drug trafficking or criminal activities.
In 2009, "The New York Times" reported that Ahmad Wali Karzai had received regular payments over several years from the CIA for various services.
"The agency paid him for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the CIA's direction in and around Kandahar," the newspaper wrote today.
Technically, Ahmad Wali Karzai was President Karzai's half-brother, as they shared the same father but had different mothers. Their father, Abdul Ahad Karzai -- a lawmaker and the head the Popalzai Pashtun tribe – was assassinated by Taliban gunmen in July 1999.
with contributions from Farangis Najibullah and Farah Hiwad in Prague, Richard Solash in Washington, and agency reports