Afghan roadside bomb kills 18 wedding guests

The wounded are being treated in hospital at Mazar-e-Sharif

A massive roadside bomb has killed at least 18 people, mostly women and children, on their way to a wedding in northern Afghanistan.

At least 15 others were wounded in what a BBC correspondent called one of the worst such attacks for some time.

The victims were on a minibus, heading to the wedding in the Dawlatabad district of Balkh province, when it was struck at about 06:00 local time.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the attack.

"Planting a mine on a road used by civilians and the killing of innocent people represents hostility toward humanity," he said in a statement.

No-one has admitted carrying out the attack, and it is not clear if the minibus was the intended target.

'Severe injuries'

District police commander Bismullah Muslimyar said six children and seven women were killed by the blast, Associated Press reports.

The bride and groom were not on the bus, he added.

Map

Dawood Rustaie, a surgeon treating the wounded at a hospital in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh, said most were in a critical condition.

"Some of them [are] slightly wounded, but some others have severe injuries and need prolonged treatment," said Mr Rustaie.

Northern Afghanistan has generally been one of the safest parts of the country since the US-led invasion in 2001, says the BBC's Andrew North in Kabul.

But Balkh has seen an increase in Taliban activity in recent years, which Nato forces - despite their extra numbers - have been unable to suppress.

A UN report in August said civilian casualties had actually fallen for the first time in five years in Afghanistan - suggesting both sides in the war are becoming increasingly sensitive to the impact of civilian deaths.

But the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which published the report, said it was concerned that the number of civilian deaths and injuries "remains at a high level".

There are no exact figures for the number of civilians killed since the war began in 2001, but most estimates calculate a minimum of 20,000 civilian deaths.

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