(CNSNews.com) – Afghanistan’s “high peace council” head Burhanuddin Rabbani on Tuesday became the latest victim in a string of assassinations of high-profile Afghans, killed by a Taliban suicide bomber.
Rabbani’s death came just six weeks after he said that the assassinations were being carried out by unnamed “foreign intelligence agencies” in a bid to defame Islam and the Taliban.
Afghan and NATO officials said Rabbani and four bodyguards were killed at his Kabul home by a suicide bomber posing as a peace envoy from the Taliban, who had a bomb hidden in his turban.
Rabbani, a former president of Afghanistan and Northern Alliance leader, was appointed last year to head a peace body set up by President Hamid Karzai to seek reconciliation with elements of the Taliban, as the gradual drawdown of U.S. forces from the country approaches.
In New York, President Obama condemned the killing, saying it would not deter the U.S. mission – “creating a path whereby Afghans can live in freedom and safety and security and prosperity.” He was speaking alongside Karzai, who is in New York for United Nations meetings but is expected now to return home early.
Karzai said Rabbani was a patriot who had “sacrificed his life for the sake of Afghanistan and for the peace of our country.”
Rabbani, a Tajik, served as president between the end of the Soviet occupation and the Taliban takeover of most of the country in 1996.
The peace council he headed aimed to win over those Taliban elements willing to stop fighting, in the hopes of ending a conflict that began long before U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban regime after 9/11.
The Obama administration supports the reconciliation effort, on condition insurgents abandon violence, end support for al-Qaeda and commit to abiding by the Afghan constitution.
Rabbani reported having held talks with representatives of the three main Taliban factions – Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network, and Hezb-i-Islami, a group led by Pashtun militant Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Little progress was reported, however, and in recent months the Taliban carried out a series of assassinations of senior Afghans, alongside audacious armed attacks like the one last week targeting the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul, blamed on the Haqqani network.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassinations, including those of Kandahar city mayor Ghulam Haidar Hamidi on July 27, Karzai advisor Jan Mohammad Khan on July 17, Karzai’s half-brother and Kandahar provincial council head Ahmed Wali Karzai on July 12, and Kandahar provincial police chief Khan Muhammad Mujahid on April 15.
Despite the Taliban claims of responsibility, however, when Rabbani visited Kandahar last month, he pointed in a different direction, calling the killings part of “a big plot against our nation, religion and security.”
“Rabbani said that the assassination of high-profile Afghan figures is part of a plot sketched by foreign intelligence organizations to misuse the name of the Taliban and to defame Islam,” Afghanistan’s Tolo TV reported on August 8.