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4 US troops killed by roadside bomb in Afghanistan

Ex-president escapes in targeted attack

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A roadside bomb killed four US troops in an armored vehicle in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, the deadliest attack on coalition forces in a month.

In Kabul, a suicide bombing yesterday killed two people and narrowly missed the upper house of parliament's chief, who accused Pakistani intelligence of trying to assassinate him.

The two bombings were the latest in a series of militant attacks that appear to be gathering intensity more than four years after the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime by a US-led invasion.

The US troops died when their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device in the Pech Valley in Kunar Province as they patrolled to keep a road open to civilian and military traffic, military spokesman Colonel Jim Yonts said.

Kunar Governor Asadullah Wafa said the blast went off as a convoy of six American vehicles was passing at 4:15 p.m.

Yonts accused militants of launching ''cowardly" attacks, placing bombs and detonating them from a distance. He said that would not deter the US-led coalition from their mission of defeating Taliban and Al Qaeda militants and establishing lasting security.

Yesterday's bombing raised the death toll of US military personnel in the region to 220 since a US-led offensive toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001. It was the deadliest attack since Feb. 13, when a roadside bomb killed four American troops in an armored vehicle in central Uruzgan Province.

Also yesterday, a car bombing in the capital targeted Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, a Muslim cleric who briefly served as president in 1992. He now heads the new Meshrano Jirga, or upper house of Parliament, and leads a commission encouraging Taliban fighters to reconcile with the government.

Mujaddedi escaped with burns to his hands and face but two bystanders -- a girl on her way to school and a man on a motorbike -- were killed. Five others were wounded, and the two attackers who drove the explosives-laden station wagon into the convoy died.

''The explosion was very strong. For awhile I couldn't see anything. I was in the front seat of my car. I saw a big fire came toward me," Mujaddedi said at a news conference a few hours later.

His hands were wrapped in bandages -- burned when he raised them to protect his face from the blast.

The bloodstained road was littered with parts of the attackers' car.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing as ''an attack on the voice of Afghanistan and clerics of Afghanistan." He did not blame anyone outright but said he had received information two months ago of a plot to ''attack important personalities in Afghanistan."

Mujaddedi was more forthright, accusing Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency for the bombing. He offered no proof.

''We have got information that ISI of Pakistan has launched a plan to kill me," he said.

Islamabad dismissed Mujaddedi's charge.

''Pakistan rejects the baseless allegations," said Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Tasnim Aslam.

The accusation will probably aggravate deteriorating relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, two key allies in the US-led war on terrorism.

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