KABUL, Afghanistan -- Former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was appointed last year to head a commission trying to broker a peace deal with the Taliban, was killed inside his Kabul home yesterday afternoon in a suicide bombing, Afghan officials said.
The blast also wounded Rahmatullah Wahidyar, a former Taliban minister and peace council member, and Masoom Stanekzai, a top aide to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the chief of the peace council's secretariat, Afghan officials said.
The latest in a series of high-profile attacks was viewed as a major blow to U.S.-backed efforts to draw Taliban-led insurgents into peace talks.
The man who killed Mr. Rabbani was brought to his house under the pretext of peace talks, Gen. Abdul Zahir, chief of investigations for the Kabul police, said by phone. The suicide bomber had hidden explosives in his turban, General Zahir said.
"The man hugged Rabbani and blew himself up."
General Zahir said Mr. Rabbani's killer was not searched because he was brought to the residence by the peace council's senior members. He said the council members thought the men were Taliban.
The general said before detonating the explosives, the suicide bomber lowered his head in an ostensible gesture of respect. Mr. Rabbani, 71, was killed on the spot. .
Four other people, including Mr. Rabbani's secretary, were also killed, General Zahir said.
Mr. Karzai cut short a trip to New York, where he planned to attend the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. "The enemy has shown it has no mercy for the people who love their country," he said in a statement.
Before leaving New York, Mr. Karzai met with President Obama to discuss the transition of security responsibility to Afghan forces. In a joint appearance with Mr. Karzai before their meeting, Mr. Obama called the assassination of Mr. Rabbani "a tragic loss" and hailed his "enormous contribution to rebuilding the country."
Mr. Obama called for continuing efforts to unite Afghans and end "a senseless cycle of violence."
Mr. Karzai said, "This is a hard day for us in Afghanistan, but a day of unity and a day of continuity of our efforts."
The assassination of the political leader is a blow to the Afghan government's effort to bring insurgents into the political fold. The United States and other Western leaders have backed the so-far fruitless effort as the best chance to end the war after a decade of fighting.
Mr. Rabbani, president from 1992 to 1996, fled Kabul when the Taliban seized control. He was one of the key leaders of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of warlords and political factions that fought against the Taliban during the nation's civil war.
Mr. Karzai and the U.S.-led military coalition in Kabul are struggling to argue that Afghanistan is ready to start assuming greater responsibility for security as NATO troops start pulling out.
Last week, a 20-hour grenade and rocket attack targeted the U.S. Embassy and the NATO headquarters in Kabul. U.S. officials said the assault, which included suicide bombings across the city, likely was carried out by the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, a group allied with the Taliban and linked to several high-profile attacks. Mr. Rabbani's house is near the embassy.
In a statement condemning the assassination yesterday, the U.S. Embassy said: "Those responsible for this attack show their disregard for the efforts that Dr. Rabbani has led in the cause of peace for Afghanistan. This kind of cowardly attack will only harden our resolve to work together with the Afghan government and people to end the insurgency and realize a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan."
The commander of U.S. NATO troops in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, said the U.S.-led coalition would continue fighting for peace.
"The face of the peace initiative has been attacked," General Allen said in a statement.
Haroun Mir, a political analyst in Kabul, said Mr. Rabbani's death would be a huge setback.
"This is a big loss for the entire country," he said by phone. "We don't know who was behind this assassination. But the message seems to be that at least one group within the Taliban is totally against the peace process. This is a very strong message."