Hashmat Karzai
Ashmat Khlil Karzai killed in suicide attackSTR/AFP/Getty Images

A suicide bomber exploited celebrations marking the end of Ramadan to approach and kill a cousin to Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Ashmat Khlil Karzai, a close political ally to the outgoing president, was assassinated in the restive southern Kandahar province.

A hitman with an explosive device hidden inside his turban approached him outside his family home in the Karz district of the city that gives the name to the region, local authorities said.

Ashmat Karzai was receiving guests as part of celebrations for Eid, the day marking the end of Islam's holy month of Ramadan. Among them was the suicide bomber, who walked up to the host to greet him.

"After he hugged Ashmat, he blew up his explosives and killed him," Dawa Khan Minapal, the Kandahar provincial governor's spokesman, told AFP.

A histrionic character who famously owned a pet lion, Karzai had backed former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai's bid to succeed his cousin as president and worked for Ghani as campaign manager in Kandahar.

Ghani's rival Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory in last month's elections but results have been disputed amid allegations of rigging and fraud.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Karzai's powerful family is not new to assassinations and murders. The president's brother was killed seven years ago in Kandahar by a suspected Taliban attacker. Ashmat Karzai's own father was also murdered by a relative 25 years ago.

RFERL journalist Bashir Ahmad Gwakh tweeted: