KABUL, Afghanistan -- A Taliban suicide bomber tried to assassinate the influential new chief of Afghanistan's intelligence service Thursday at an agency guesthouse in Kabul, officials said, in a brazen attack that left him seriously wounded and underscored the insurgency's ability to go after those at the highest levels of the government.
The attack -- against Asadullah Khalid, who had just taken over the National Directorate of Security in September -- sidelined a man who had emerged as one of the insurgency's fiercest opponents, as well as an implacable critic of Pakistan.
In his short time at the reins, Mr. Khalid had stepped up clandestine operations against the Taliban's middle- and upper-level leadership, according to Afghan and coalition officials. He has also put his agency at the forefront of Afghan and Western efforts to clamp down on the killings of coalition troops by Afghan soldiers and police, some of which have been attributed to Taliban infiltration.
The National Directorate of Security said in a statement that Mr. Khalid had survived a "cowardly terrorist attack." It offered no details, but his wounds appeared substantial: Afghan and Western officials with knowledge of his condition said he had sustained injuries to his chest and abdomen. One Afghan official said he arrived bleeding and unconscious at a hospital run by the intelligence service.
President Hamid Karzai, who is close to Mr. Khalid, visited the hospital soon after the attack and said in a statement that his condition was improving.
Mr. Khalid was later flown to Bagram Air Field, a coalition base north of Kabul, said Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the coalition. The move was made to take advantage of the higher-quality medical facilities available at Bagram, one of the largest coalition bases in Afghanistan.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in an email sent to the media. Some Afghan officials, prompted by Mr. Khalid's public criticism of Pakistan's ambitions and influence in Afghanistan, voiced suspicions that Pakistani interests may have sanctioned the attack -- a frequent, though mostly unprovable, pattern of blame after high-profile attacks in Afghanistan in recent years.
The attack took place in the Kabul neighborhood of Taimani, an upscale district that is home to many foreigners, inside one of the guesthouses that Mr. Khalid and the intelligence directorate uses, according to two Western officials.
Mr. Khalid, an ethnic Pashtun from Kandahar province who has long been close to the Karzai family, became a favorite of Western intelligence officials because of his anti-Taliban record, first as governor of Kandahar and then as the minister of border and tribal affairs.
Neighbors on the street where the bombing happened Thursday, sometime between 2:15 p.m. and 3 p.m., said that it was not a large explosion but somewhat muffled, and that it appeared to have taken place inside the guesthouse.
Western and Afghan officials said Mr. Khalid had been meeting there with the head of Department 24, which deals with borders and extraterritorial activities.
That the attack occurred inside the house suggested to some officials that whoever carried it out was trusted enough to enter without being thoroughly searched.