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Slain ex-Taliban peace negotiator mourned

KABUL -- Hundreds of people yesterday mourned the death of a former high-ranking Taliban official who had reconciled with the Afghan government and was trying to bring peace to his homeland.

A gunman in a car assassinated Arsala Rahmani on Sunday, dealing a powerful blow to the fragile, U.S.-backed effort to negotiate a political resolution to the more than decade-long war.

It was the second killing of a prominent member of the government-appointed peace council set up to reach out to insurgents. In September 2011, former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the council's head, was assassinated in his Kabul home by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.

A military honor guard carried Rahmani's coffin, covered in a black cloth with verses of the Quran embroidered on it in gold, to a cemetery in the Afghan capital.

"Rahmani had no personal dispute with anyone who would want to kill him," said Shahzada Shahid, another member of the peace council. "He was working for the peace process, security and unity of the Afghans . . . It's been a series of killings of our countrymen. Elders, religious leaders, politicians, teachers, engineers and even businessmen are the victims."

Police said an assassin with a silencer-equipped pistol shot Rahmani, who was in his 70s, near Kabul University. The gunman fired from a white Toyota Corolla that pulled up alongside Rahmani's vehicle at an intersection. Rahmani's driver rushed to a hospital, but he died on the way, police said. Kabul police said no one has been arrested.

Rahmani was a former deputy minister of higher education in the Taliban regime that was ousted by the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. He reconciled with the government and was appointed to a seat in the upper house of parliament before joining the council.

The Taliban denied responsibility for Rahmani's killing, although they had publicly threatened to target peace negotiators and others working with the government.

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