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Five Afghan volleyball players shot dead

Mihtarlam: Gunmen shot dead five young Afghan men playing volleyball, officials said Friday, but Taliban insurgents responsible for much of Afghanistan's unrest denied any involvement in the killings.

Former warlord Ismail Khan, a vice-presidential candidate in the forthcoming April election, also escaped an apparent assassination attempt when a suicide bomber detonated him outside a mosque after Friday prayers.

The volleyball players were gunned down in the eastern province of Laghman by attackers riding on a motorbike.

The Taliban regime between 1996-2001 banned volleyball and many other activities, but a spokesman for the group said it was not responsible for Thursday's deaths.

“We completely reject this allegation. We are not involved in this killing at all. Those who killed them are not our men,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

Some local reports said the victims had been playing cricket, but Habib-ul-Rahman, the governor of Alingar district where the attack took place, confirmed the provincial spokesman's account and death toll.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack and said such violence would not deter Afghans' search for peace and development.

Ismail Khan was unhurt when an elderly man triggered a suicide bomb in Herat — the western city where Khan is an influential figure.

In other violence, officials said the body of a murdered journalist was found in the southern province of Helmand. No group has claimed responsibility for his death.

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