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Originally published Tuesday, May 3, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Dozens die in Afghan explosion

A warlord's stockpile of explosives detonated in a remote Afghan village yesterday, flattening six houses and a mosque and killing at least...

The Associated Press

BASHGAH, Afghanistan — A warlord's stockpile of explosives detonated in a remote Afghan village yesterday, flattening six houses and a mosque and killing at least 26 people in what appeared to be the deadliest accident of its kind since the ouster of the Taliban regime.

The blast shook Bashgah, a farming hamlet in the mountains of Baghlan province, 75 miles north of Kabul, about dawn, also injuring at least 30 villagers.

There was disagreement over the type of explosives that detonated, with villagers saying they were for road-building. Afghan officials insisted the house hid an illegal-weapons cache, highlighting the danger from old weapons piled up during 25 years of war and the task of disarming commanders wary of rivals and the country's U.S.-backed government.

Mohammed Razek, a shepherd, said he rushed from his home to pull victims from the debris and help more than 30 injured survivors.

"It was very powerful," Razek, 32, said. "We saw the houses destroyed and then pieces of bodies everywhere."

He said 26 people were killed, including 23 relatives of the commander, and three others were missing. More than a dozen of the dead were children. The warlord was not in the house at the time. Officials earlier said 28 were killed and up to 70 injured.

Residents said the commander, a former anti-communist and anti-Taliban leader called Jalal Bashgah, recently brought explosives to improve the rough road up the valley.

But Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal said the blast was caused by a cache hidden in a bunker under Bashgah's house.

Baghlan Police Chief Gen. Fazeluddin Ayar said the cache included rockets and explosives, and the commander had given up only a portion of weapons hoarded "a long time ago" to the United Nations, which, so far, has demobilized more than 50,000 former militiamen.

He said Bashgah's was among six houses flattened by the blast.

The U.N. program and the disposal activities of U.S. and NATO troops, who report the discovery of weapons caches almost daily, have rounded up a vast arsenal, much of it left from the resistance against occupying Soviet forces during the 1980s.

But Peter Babbington, head of the U.N. program, said there were "many, many thousands of tons" more scattered across the country, and there were sure to be more accidents.

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"These guys think they can store it forever and that it'll be as good as the day it came off the production line, but it isn't. It deteriorates, and it becomes volatile," Babbington said. "We're surveying the known sites, but new sites come up every day."

Mohammed Yusuf Faiez, the director of Baghlan's only hospital, said villagers described being blown off their feet as they walked home from morning prayer, apparently at the mosque next to the commander's house.

"One man told me there was a huge explosion, and then all he can remember is the thick smoke," Faiez said by telephone from Pul-e-Khumri, the provincial capital.

Before yesterday, the most deadly reported weapons accident had befallen the U.S. military, which lost eight soldiers in January 2004, when a cache of arms they were preparing for disposal exploded prematurely.

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