Five school children were reportedly among 10 people killed in a suicide attack targeting elders in northeastern Afghanistan on Wednesday.
The attack occurred in Kunar province, an insurgent stronghold on the border with Pakistan used by the Taliban to launch attacks on U.S.-led troops.
"A suicide attacker targeted a gathering of tribal elders in the Asmar district of Kunar today," interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told Agence France-Presse, adding that 10 people were killed, including a key local pro-government elder.
The education ministry said the dead school children were aged between seven and 15. In Afghanistan, according to AFP, young people often attend gatherings of elders to provide assistance.
The bomber detonated his explosives while greeting a high-profile elder, Malik Zarin, with a hug. According to the LA Times, Zarin was a former mujahedeen commander who fought the Soviets in the '80s. He had a good relationship with NATO forces in the area and with Afghanistan's central government.
He had been shot at before by local enemies, but not singled out for attack by the Taliban, the chairman of the Kunar provincial council, Haji Nia Hassan, told the Times.
The Taliban often targets pro-government figures, however a Taliban spokesman denied the group carried out the attack, saying that Zarin had "his own enemies." The area is also home to a number of militant groups, including the Taliban-allied Haqqani network and Hezb-i-Islami.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, blaming the bombing on "the coward slaves hired by the historic enemies of Afghanistan."
"Organizers of this brutal attack showed that they fear these elders who understand them and their wrong and inhuman intentions," Karzai said in a statement, the LA Times reported. "By killing them, they want to silence the peaceful voice of the people of Afghanistan and undermine the strength of the country."
A spokesman for NATO forces, Rear Admiral Hal Pittman, reportedly said: "This attack demonstrates how desperate insurgents are to prevent progress by targeting Afghanistan's traditional leaders and elders."
— Freya Petersen