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Blast at Afghan warlord's home kills 26
Updated: 2005-05-03 08:44

A warlord's stockpile of explosives detonated in a remote Afghan village Monday, flattening a half dozen houses and a mosque and killing at least 26 people in what appeared to be the deadliest accident of its kind since the ouster of the Taliban regime.

The blast shook this farming hamlet in the mountains of Baghlan province, 75 miles north of Kabul, about dawn, also injuring at least 30 villagers.

There was disagreement over the type of explosives that detonated with villagers saying they were for road-building. Afghan officials insisted the house hid an illegal weapons cache, highlighting the danger from old arms piled up in a quarter-century of war and the task of disarming commanders wary of rivals and the country's U.S.-backed government.

Afghan policemen. A massive explosion ripped through a secret ammunition dump owned by a warlord in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 28 people and injuring more than 70 others, police and officials said.(AFP/File
Afghan policemen. A massive explosion ripped through a secret ammunition dump owned by a warlord in northern Afghanistan, killing at least 26 people and injuring more than 70 others, police and officials said.[AFP/File]
By late evening, a handful of residents were still combing the tangle of mud, stones and broken roof beams from at least four family homes. Pieces of clothing and crockery could be seen by lamplight, but no wall was left standing in an area 100 yards wide.

A shepherd called Mohammed Razek said he rushed from his home to pull victims from the debris and help more than 30 injured survivors.

"It was very powerful," Razek, a bearded 32-year-old in traditional baggy Afghan dress, told Associated Press reporters at the scene. "We saw the houses destroyed and then pieces of bodies everywhere."

He said 26 people were killed, including 23 relatives of the commander, and three others were missing. More than a dozen of the dead were children. The warlord was not in the house at the time. Officials earlier said 28 were killed and up to 70 injured.

Residents said the commander, a former anti-communist and anti-Taliban leader called Jalal Bashgah, recently brought explosives to improve the rough road up the valley. Razek insisted he surrendered all his arms to the government.

But Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal said the blast was caused by a cache hidden in a bunker under Bashgah's house.

Baghlan Police chief Gen. Fazeluddin Ayar said the cache included rockets as well as explosives, and the commander had given up only a portion of weapons hoarded "a long time ago" to the United Nations, which has so far demobilized more than 50,000 former militiamen.

He said Bashgah's was among a half dozen houses flattened by the blast.

That program as well as the disposal activities of U.S. and NATO troops, who report the discovery of weapons caches almost daily, have rounded up a vast arsenal, much of it left over from the resistance against occupying Soviet forces during the 1980s.

But Peter Babbington, head of the U.N. program, said there were still "many, many thousands of tons" more scattered across the country. While the exact quantity was uncertain, there were sure to be more accidents, he said.

"These guys think they can store it forever and that it'll be as good as the day it came off the production line, but it isn't. It deteriorates and it becomes volatile," Babbington said. "We're surveying the known sites, but new sites come up every day."

Collection efforts were currently focused on the north, but in cities such as Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat rather than the remote valleys of Baghlan, he said.

Accidents with mines and old ordnance have inflicted casualties on an endless stream of Afghans, including children and farmers, who lose arms and legs while playing along roadsides or simply working their land, and poor Afghans killed trying to recycle gunpowder from rockets for quarrying.

Foreign troops worried that the weapons will be used against them by militants maintaining a three-year insurgency, have also fallen victim.

Mohammed Yusuf Faiez, the director of Baghlan's only hospital, said villagers described being blown off their feet as they walked home from morning prayer — apparently at the mosque next to the commander's house.

"One man told me there was a huge explosion and then all he can remember is the thick smoke," Faiez told AP by telephone from Pul-e-Khumri, the provincial capital.

Before Monday, the most deadly reported arms accident had befallen the U.S. military, which lost eight of its soldiers in January 2004 when a cache of arms they were preparing for disposal exploded prematurely.

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