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Afghan candidate escapes assassination attempt

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Afghanistan’s presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah talks to the phone during his campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, June 6, 2014. The Afghan Interior Ministry says a suicide bomber and a roadside bomb struck the convoy as it left a campaign event at a wedding hall in the capital Kabul, killing several civilians but leaving the candidate himself unharmed. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

Afghanistan’s presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah talks to the phone during his campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, June 6, 2014. The Afghan Interior Ministry says a suicide bomber and a roadside bomb struck the convoy as it left a campaign event at a wedding hall in the capital Kabul, killing several civilians but leaving the candidate himself unharmed. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

Afghan security personnel investigate the site of a suicide attack that struck the convoy of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, June 6, 2014. The Afghan Interior Ministry says a suicide bomber and a roadside bomb struck the convoy as it left a campaign event at a wedding hall in the capital Kabul, killing several civilians but leaving the candidate himself unharmed.(AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Afghan security personnel investigate the site of a suicide attack that struck the convoy of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, June 6, 2014. The Afghan Interior Ministry says a suicide bomber and a roadside bomb struck the convoy as it left a campaign event at a wedding hall in the capital Kabul, killing several civilians but leaving the candidate himself unharmed. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

An election poster of Abdullah Abdullah is seen pasted on a damaged window of a bus after a suicide attack that struck the convoy of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, June 6, 2014. The Afghan Interior Ministry says a suicide bomber and a roadside bomb struck the convoy as it left a campaign event at a wedding hall in the capital Kabul, killing several civilians but leaving the candidate himself unharmed. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Afghan youth supporters shake hands with presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah before a cycling event in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, June 6, 2014, shortly before two blasts struck a convoy carrying Abdullah following another campaign event, killing several civilians but leaving the candidate himself unharmed. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The front-runner for the Afghan presidency narrowly escaped assassination Friday when two bombs struck his convoy as it traveled between campaign events in the capital, underscoring the country’s fragility as it prepares for its first democratic transfer of power and the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of this year.

The candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, was unharmed and defiantly vowed to press ahead with his campaign, calmly telling an election rally that “the aim of this incident was to create fear and anxiety among the people and prevent them from deciding their own destiny.”

But it was a close call for a man who many in the West hope will guide Afghanistan through a particularly difficult transition, provide a steadier hand than the mercurial outgoing President Hamid Karzai and sign a security pact to allow about 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country for another two years.

At least 10 people, including three in Abdullah’s entourage, were killed and dozens were wounded in the attack, which heavily damaged the front of his armored car, destroyed several vehicles and storefronts and left the street littered with twisted metal and other rubble.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, the bombings bore the hallmarks of Taliban militants who have vowed to disrupt the election as part of their fight against the Western-backed government. Karzai blamed the attack on “enemies of Afghanistan who don’t want free elections.”

The attack took place eight days before a runoff in which Afghans are to choose a new leader. The Taliban have recently staged a series of high-profile bombings this year, though the first round of voting on April 5 was relatively peaceful. The attempt on Abdullah’s life appeared to be the first attack targeting a candidate — as opposed to their offices and workers — since campaigning began earlier this year.

If one of the candidates were to die, that would have huge implications not only for Afghanistan’s stability but for the Obama administration’s hopes for a signed security agreement in time to make preparations for keeping a residual U.S. force of trainers and advisers in the country after 2014. Both candidates in the June 14 runoff say they will sign the pact, which Karzai has refused to do. The Afghan constitution says new elections must be held in the event of a candidate’s death.

A former Afghan foreign minister, Abdullah was the runner-up in the disputed presidential elections of 2009 and hopes again now to succeed Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Abdullah is the leading contender in the runoff, facing former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. In the initial balloting, he garnered 45 percent of votes while Ahmadzai came in second with 31.6 percent.

Abdullah — who is half Pashtun and half Tajik — has a strong following among ethnic Tajiks but has sought to broaden his support base by choosing a well-known leader of the minority ethnic Hazara group and a Pashtun leader of the powerful Hezb-i-Islami group as vice presidential candidates.

Former presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul, who is now supporting Abdullah, was in the car with Abdullah on Friday but was not injured.

Abdullah had just addressed a rally at a wedding hall and was heading toward a campaign event at the Intercontinental Hotel when his convoy was hit along a street in a commercial area of western Kabul. The attack took place about noon, when many Afghans were indoors for Friday prayers.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said a suicide bombing was followed by a roadside bomb. But Gul Agha Hashim, Kabul’s criminal investigation chief, said the first

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