KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, (Reuters) – The younger half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, one of the most powerful and controversial men in southern Afghanistan, was shot dead at his home on Tuesday by a senior and highly trusted family security guard.
Ahmad Wali Karzai’s assassination will leave a dangerous power vacuum in volatile Kandahar province, the Taliban’s birthplace and a focus of recent efforts by a surge of U.S. troops to turn the tide against the insurgency.
He was accused of corruption and ties to the opium trade, but always denied wrongdoing and was strongly supported by his brother whose influence he shored up in the south.
President Karzai may find his reach there is now limited as a potentially violent power struggle plays out among the possible successors to his brother.
“We felt more safe when Ahmad Wali Karzai was around,” said Tooryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar who outranked Karzai, but like almost everyone in the province deferred to him.
“His loss will have a negative impact on issues with tribes, and current affairs and security. Kandahar today witnessed the darkest day,” Wesa added at a news conference.
Ahmad Wali Karzai, born in 1961. was head of the Kandahar Provincial Council, a largely consultative role, but his power came from his family and tribal connections and his fortune.
He was shot dead by Sardar Mohammad, a senior member of the Karzai family’s security team in Kandahar who had known his victim for at least a decade and was based at a compound in the village of Karz, where both brothers were born.
Mohammad traveled into Kandahar yesterday morning saying he had an application he needed to give his boss, Kandahar police chief Abdul Razeq told a news conference.
“The man carried his pistol through the security checks to Wali Karzai’s room. As soon as Wali Karzai came out of bathroom, he opened fire and shot him in the head and chest,” Razeq said.
Mohammad was shot dead by Karzai’s bodyguards moments after opening fire, witnesses and officials said.
Ahmad Wali Karzai was the first of Karzai’s close relatives to be killed since he became president, but their father was assassinated in 1999 while in exile in Pakistan.
“My younger brother was martyred in his house today,” President Karzai said at a news conference in Kabul held with his visiting French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy. “I hope these miseries, which every Afghan family faces, will one day end.”
The White House condemned the killing in “the strongest possible terms” spokesman Jay Carney said. Asked about a reported Taliban claim of responsibility, Carney said, “We don’t know who’s responsible. There have been some claims, and we will certainly work with the Afghan authorities on that.”