Security forces on high alert across Afghanistan ahead of landmark election
KABUL, Afghanistan – In advance of Afghanistan’s first-ever direct presidential election, Muslim clerics urged Friday worshippers to embrace democracy, election workers scurried to ready voting booths and 100,000 troops went on high alert across the country.
After the discovery of a truck laden with 10,000 gallons of gasoline and rigged with anti-tank mines, a nation that has known nothing but war held its breath in hopes that a threat by the Taliban to sabotage today’s vote would not materialize.
At the Blue Mosque, the capital’s largest house of prayer, Mullah Obeid-ul Rahman told some 400 faithful that Islam and democracy should go hand and hand.
“Saturday you should go and vote. Put your card in the box and say ‘God be praised!”‘ he said. “Give your vote to that person who is a good Muslim and can heal Afghanistan’s injured soul.”
Interim leader Hamid Karzai is widely expected to win the vote for president against 15 rivals, among them warlords, royalists and even an Islamic poet. But the size of the field could deny Karzai the majority needed to avert a run-off.
Early Friday, a rocket slammed into a parking lot near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, causing no damage or casualties but rattling nerves. Embassy staff were ordered to take cover in an underground bunker and heavily armed troops sealed off the area.
Two rockets exploded in the eastern city of Jalalabad, wounding a young girl and an old man, and eight rockets sailed over the southeastern city of Qalat, landing clear of the city and causing no damage. Three rebels were killed in mountains near the southern city of Kandahar.
The U.S. Embassy, which this week warned American citizens in Afghanistan to be vigilant, issued a separate warning Friday saying it had “received a credible threat” that insurgents planned to try to kidnap U.S. journalists.
By far the greatest threat came from the truck bomb, which officials said was discovered by a sniffer dog that detected anti-tank mines and rockets hidden in the tires.