Kandahar, January 6

At least 15 people, mostly women and children, were killed and 11 others injured after a large bicycle bomb ripped through the southern Afghan city of Kandahar today, a military commander told AFP.

Ahmad Shah said nine people had died at the US military hospital at Kandahar airport, another three at a different hospital and three others at the scene of the explosion in the southern Manzalbath area.

Around 20 minutes before the deadly blast a smaller device detonated in the same area, without causing casualties. The blasts occurred minutes before provincial governor Yusuf Pashtun was due to pass through the area.

A police officer who identified himself as Khalil said most of the dead and injured were women and children. The victims all appeared to be Afghans who were walking on the street when the blast occurred, Deputy Police Chief Salim Khan told The Associated Press. A soldier, Amanullah Popolzai, said authorities arrested a man spotted running away from the scene shortly before the explosion. The man was caught trying to hide in a nearby home.

"This was the work of the Taliban. The man looked like he was a Talib fighter," Popolzai said.

A badly damaged truck was in the middle of the road after the explosion, its driver among the dead. The torn metal of about a dozen bicycles littered the asphalt. The bomb had been attached to one of the bikes, Khan said.

The blast occurred in a residential sector of eastern Kandahar, about 100 metres from an Afghan military base. Dozens of Afghan and American soldiers immediately swarmed into the area, sealing it off.

The attack was the latest in a stream of shootings, kidnappings and bomb blasts against civilians as well as soldiers in the south and east of the country, many of the them claimed by Taliban militants. Many have occurred in the Kandahar area, the former Taliban stronghold that is now the focus of a US plan to deploy troops and civilian reconstruction workers across the south to make it safe for summer elections and badly needed reconstruction.