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Cousin of Afghan President Karzai assassinated by suicide bomber who hid explosives in cap

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KABUL, Afghanistan — A powerful cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was assassinated by a suicide bomber hiding explosives in his cap on Tuesday, a provincial official said.

Hashmat Khalil Karzai was a staunch supporter of the president and had played an active role in the campaign to choose his cousin's successor.

The attacker blew himself up while bowing to kiss Karzai's hand following morning prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr in a reception room at the Karzai family home in the southern province of Kandahar, a provincial government spokesman said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes at a sensitive time in Afghanistan as an audit is taking place under international supervision of all 8 million ballots cast last month in the second round of the country's presidential election. The process is key to insuring a peaceful transfer of power ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of the year.

Hashmat Karzai was campaign manager for former Finance Minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who is competing against Abdullah Abdullah.

PHOTO: Afghan men attend Eid al-Fitr prayers in Kandahar south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 28, 2014. Eid al-Fitr prayer marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.(AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)
Afghan men attend Eid al-Fitr prayers in Kandahar south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 28, 2014. Eid al-Fitr prayer marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.(AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)

The president, who was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, has appealed for a speedy conclusion to the audit, saying that Afghanistan urgently needs a new leader.

Dawa Khan Minapal, the provincial government spokesman, initially said the explosives were hidden in a turban but later said they were under a cap worn by the bomber. He said one person also was wounded and authorities were investigating how the bomber got the explosives through the security checks at the Karzai home in the district of Karz.

It was not the first time that Karzai's family members have been targeted. The president's powerful half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, who was the head of the provincial council, was slain in his home in the city of Kandahar by his bodyguard in July 2011.

President Karzai condemned the attack. "Every day Afghans are murdered by terrorist attacks. My family is also part of this disaster," he said.

British Ambassador Richard Stagg also expressed condolences to the Karzai family.

Hashmat's "killers must not be allowed to prevent the desire of ordinary Afghans to see a peaceful political transition based on the votes they cast," Stagg said in a statement.

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PHOTO: Afghan men attend Eid al-Fitr prayers in Kandahar south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 28, 2014. Eid al-Fitr prayer marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.(AP Photo/Allauddin Khan)
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