Taliban behind Kandahar blast

BRUSSELS: NATO holds the Taliban responsible for the deadliest bombing in Afghanistan in more than a year, despite the Aghan militia's denials, a NATO spokesman said Wednesday.

"I have seen that the Taliban deny responsibility. They do not get to wash their hands of this," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said in Brussels.

"The Taliban carry out terrorist attacks on a regular basis throughout the country... They cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for this attack, either directly or indirectly," he said.

With the Taliban-led insurgency at record levels, the Islamist rebels were blamed for setting off a truck bomb in the heart of southern Kandahar city on Tuesday, killing up to 43 people and injuring 65, almost all civilians.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen "condemns" the bombing, Appathurai said.

"This was obviously carried out without the slightest regard for civilian lives and achieved very tragic levels of civilian casualties," he added.

The attack came around two hours after the Independent Election Commission in Kabul announced the first results from a hotly contested presidential election held last Thursday beneath a cloud of Taliban-induced fear.

The Taliban had pledged to disrupt the election, the second of its kind in the history of Afghanistan and the focus of Western efforts to implant democracy.

The Taliban denied involvement in Tuesday's attack. The militia, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until the 2001 US-led invasion, are known to exaggerate their claims as well as deny attacks involving civilian casualties.

Separately, the Swedish EU presidency said it "condemns the bomb attack that indiscriminately killed and injured innocent civilians in the city of Kandahar."

"The presidency reiterates the full commitment and support of the European Union to Afghanistan and the Afghan people," it said in a statement that expressed sympathy for the families of the victims.