Afghan President Hamid Karzai's powerful half brother, who critics claimed had ties to the drug world as well as U.S. intelligence, was assassinated Tuesday by one of his own bodyguards in the southern Afghanistan.
Ahmed Wali Karzai was shot twice once in the head and once in the chest by the bodyguard, according to hospital officials. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing.
A person who witnessed the assassination told The Associated Press that a member of Wali Karzai's private security team killed him with an AK-47. The individual, who declined to be identified, said that other bodyguards quickly gunned down the assassin.
Wali Karzai, who held sway over the old Taliban capital Kandahar in the country's south, was a controversial figure whose activities had long been a problem for his brother, the president.
Although a motive for the killing had not been established, NPR's Quil Lawrence, speaking from Kabul, said Wali Karzai had no shortage of enemies.
"It's probably safe to say that it's impossible to be on top in Kandahar without making a lot of enemies," Lawrence said. "There had been many attempts against him in the past several years," adding that the Taliban "saw him as a symbol of the corrupt...puppet government of the West.
"It also bears repeating that last year in The New York Times, there were allegations that Ahmed Wali Karzai had been a CIA asset," Lawrence said.
The killing came just hours before Hamid Karzai held a news conference with French President Nicolas Sarzoky.
"This morning my younger brother Ahmed Wali Karzai was murdered in his home," the Afghan president said. "Such is the life of Afghanistan's people. In the houses of the people of Afghanistan, each of us is suffering and our hope is that, God willing, to remove this suffering from the people of Afghanistan and implement peace and stability."
While Wali Karzai was undoubtedly a key power broker in the country's southern heartland, he had always denied charges of being on the CIA payroll or involved in drug trafficking. Members of the international community had urged Hamid Karzai to remove his brother from his powerful provincial position, saying that it was essential if he was to prove to the Afghan people that he was committed to good governance.
NPR's Lawrence said some years ago, he spoke to a Western diplomat who is close to President Karzai. "He said at the time ... that President Karzai himself was at a loss of what to do.
The president essentially said "'this is my brother, I can't move against him.' Here in Afghanistan, these family ties are extremely important. What might be seen as cronyism on the outside is essentially seen as doing what is owed to one's family."
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raze Giyani condemned the killing in a statement, calling it an "act of cowardice" and offering his condolences to the president.
Noorolhaq Olomi, a former parliament member from Kandahar, said Wali Karzai was the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan.
"I cannot say whether this was political or personal or some other matter," Olomi said. "But whoever did it, it shows the weakness of this government. The president needs to change things. He needs to change himself and build a government that is real. Right now, there is no government. It's all a fraud."
Rangina Hamidi, a resident of Kandahar and daughter of the city's mayor, said Wali Karzai is survived by five children — two sons and three daughters. She said his youngest son was born about a month ago.
"It is his one-month-old child who is never going to see his father that I cry about," she said sobbing on the phone. "How many orphans and widows are we creating in this country?"
Wali Karzai had been the target of multiple assassination attempts.
In May 2009, his motorcade was ambushed by insurgents firing rockets and machine guns in eastern Nangarhar province. One of Wali Karzai's bodyguards was killed, but he was not harmed.
That attack came less than two months after four Taliban suicide bombers stormed Kandahar's provincial council office, killing 13 people in an assault that Wali Karzai said was aimed at him. A Taliban spokesman said the attack targeted the general compound. The president's brother had left the building a few minutes before that attack.
Wali Karzai also survived a November 2008 attack on the provincial council offices while the group was inside hearing constituent complaints. A suicide bomber drove an oil tanker up to the council's offices and blew up the vehicle, killing six people and wounding more than 40. Two members of the provincial council were wounded but Wali Karzai was unharmed.
Quil Lawrence in Kabul and The Associated Press contributed to this report.