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Political Candidate’s Aides Die in Afghanistan Attack

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two aides to an Afghan presidential candidate were fatally shot in the relatively secure city of Herat in western Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said, raising questions about the prospects of a peaceful election one day before the official start of the campaign.

The attack occurred around 6:30 p.m. when gunmen fired on a vehicle outside the campaign office in Herat, according to police officials and a spokesman for the candidate. The assault killed Faiz Zada Hamdard, a campaign manager for the candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, and the driver of the vehicle, Shujauddin, 19, the nephew of a well-known jihadi commander who goes by a single name like many Afghans.

By late Saturday, the police had detained several suspects, officials said.

A spokesman for Mr. Abdullah, an ophthalmologist who first ran for president in 2009, said Mr. Hamdard had been threatened by phone and in person for his work on the campaign, and questioned the ability of Afghan security forces to protect candidates and their aides.

“This was a saddening news, which deeply hurt us all,” said Sayed Fazel Sancharaki, the spokesman. “We see it as a great loss, and Mr. Abdullah Abdullah requests that the security organizations seriously investigate this incident.”

The attack comes at a difficult time for Afghanistan, as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power. The election, set for April 5, is to determine the successor to President Hamid Karzai, who is scheduled to step down after serving two terms.

The election is viewed as a crucial milestone for the nation, which must confront fears about security and fraud as well as the withdrawal of most, if not all, Western forces. Mr. Abdullah is one of 11 candidates vying to succeed Mr. Karzai.

The death of Mr. Hamdard is a blow to Mr. Abdullah’s campaign. He was a longtime staff member of Mr. Abdullah’s political organization, the National Coalition of Afghanistan, and served the candidate during his previous bid for the presidency. In his latest role, he was the head of one of Mr. Abdullah’s 12 campaign offices in Herat Province.

Mr. Abdullah, partial to turtleneck sweaters and tailored jackets, is a well-known figure in Afghan politics, having come in behind Mr. Karzai in the 2009 elections, which were widely considered fraudulent. He is seen this time around as one of the favorites. Early polling has suggested that he could very well garner the most votes in a first round, though probably not enough to avoid a runoff.

Born of a Pashtun father and Tajik mother, Mr. Abdullah was part of the resistance to both Soviet and Taliban rule and was an early member of the government formed after the American intervention. He was Mr. Karzai’s foreign minister for five years before becoming one of the Karzai government’s fiercest critics.

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