Taliban assassins riding motorbikes gunned down a senior election official in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, raising fears the presidential vote due in April will trigger a surge in violence.
Amanullah Aman, the head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Kunduz province, was killed by two gunmen outside his home in Kunduz city as he left for work.
He was the first election official to be murdered since candidate nominations opened on Monday. All potential runners in the wide-open race to succeed President Hamid Karzai must declare themselves by October 6.
"Aman was shot dead in the morning in front of his house as he was leaving for his office," Kunduz provincial spokesman Enayatullah Khaliq told AFP.
"Two men on motorcycles opened fire on his car and severely wounded him, he later died in the hospital."
Deputy police chief Ebadullah Talwar said that Aman was murdered after going grocery shopping and was not accompanied by any bodyguards. Talwar added that five arrests had already been made, but gave no further details.
The Taliban, who often target government officials, released a brief statement on their website claiming responsibility for the attack.
Last month Taliban leader Mullah Omar called the election a "waste of time", but has so far stopped short of threatening an increase in attacks targeting preparations for the vote on April 5.
"We'll boycott elections in April. We did not say we'll attack it, but the commanders on the ground will," one member of the Taliban, which dismiss Karzai as a US puppet, told AFP recently.
Kunduz, which borders Tajikistan, is in the more peaceful north of Afghanistan, but it is still a hotbed of Islamist insurgent activity.
The province is also a major route for drug trafficking and has a volatile mix of rival ethnic groups and armed militia.
A successful presidential election next year is widely seen as the key test of international military and aid efforts since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
Karzai on Tuesday repeated his vow to help oversee a safe and credible vote, which will be Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power.
"A good election this time will be good for my good reputation,"