KABUL, Afghanistan – Militants shot and killed a prominent Muslim cleric who had called for peace in insurgency-wracked Afghanistan, along with two members of his family, officials said Monday, the latest in a string of killings targeting figures seen as pro-government.

Cleric Rahman Gul, his brother and a relative were gunned down in an ambush Sunday while returning to their homes in the Chapa Dara district of Kunar province, the Interior Ministry and provincial police chief Gen. Khalilullah Zaiyie said.

In recent days, Gul, the chief of the district clerical council, had stressed the importance of “peace and stability” across Afghanistan. No one claimed responsibility, but the Taliban insurgents are known to target those who oppose their extreme, militant interpretation of Islam.

The shooting capped a weekend of roadside bombings, assassinations, militant attacks and suicide blasts across the country as part of an expected springtime spike in insurgent violence in the country.

The bloodshed continued Monday: Italy’s Foreign Ministry said two Italian soldiers in the NATO mission were killed by a roadside bomb while riding in a convoy near the western city of Herat. Two other soldiers were wounded.

The alliance said two U.S. service members had died Sunday in southern Afghanistan. One was killed in an insurgent attack, and the other died of injuries sustained a day earlier, the alliance said, without elaborating.

At least 26 NATO troops, including 16 U.S. service members, have been killed so far this month across Afghanistan, many in the south where NATO troops are moving in as part of a stepped-up security operation in Kandahar.

Late Sunday in Kandahar, a suicide bomber detonated his cache of explosives near the gate of an Afghan Border Police residence. Kandahar Police Chief Sher Mohammed Zazai said at least three people were wounded in the attack in the northeast part of the city.


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