Kandahar: Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger brother of the Afghan President and a hugely powerful if controversial figure in southern Afghanistan, was assassinated at home on Tuesday, officials said.

The killing of his chief local power broker will be a huge loss for President Hamid Karzai in Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban insurgency as NATO troops rush to start withdrawing combat troops after a decade of war.

Initial details were sketchy, with a family friend telling on condition of anonymity that he was killed by a bodyguard while entertaining guests at home and an Afghan intelligence official saying he was shot dead by a guest.

"We can confirm he has been martyred," Kandahar provincial government spokesman Zalmay Ayubi said, providing no further details.

A health official, also speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said Wali Karzai had been shot dead.

"He was shot dead at his house by one of the visiting guests not by a body guard, at around 11:30 am (0700 GMT)," said an official at Afghanistan's intelligence agency, the
National Directorate of Security.

The official said the gunman had himself been killed by other bodyguards.

The family friend said a number of Wali Karzai's guests were also killed in the gunfire, but there was no immediate confirmation of who or how many.

The assassination came just before the Afghan leader received French President Nicolas Sarkozy, on a surprise visit to Afghanistan where he announced that Paris would recall
1,000 soldiers by the end of next year.

Pak PM condemns assassination
 
Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the assassination of Afghan
President Hamid Karzai's brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, describing the incident as an "act of cowardice".

In a message, Gilani expressed "deep grief and sorrow" at the killing of Karzai's brother.

He conveyed his condolences to President Karzai and his family and prayed for God to grant courage and fortitude to them to bear the loss.

(Agencies)