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In one of the deadliest suicide attacks in Afghanistan this year, at least one suicide bomber killed at least 26 Afghans, half of them civilians, in a crowded market in southern Afghanistan on Monday night, Afghan officials said.

One bomber walked up to a truck full of policemen in one of the main markets in the town of Gereshk, Helmand Province, and detonated his explosive, said Abdul Manaf, the Gereshk district chief. The bomb or bombs killed 13 policemen and 13 pedestrians. At least two dozen other people were wounded. “The bodies were burned beyond recognition,” Manaf said.

The attack came two days after the United Nations said 103 suicide bombings had been carried out in Afghanistan in the first eight months of 2007, a 69 percent increase over the same period last year. The report said suicide attacks are on a pace to exceed the record 123 bombings carried out in 2006.

Monday’s death toll appeared to be higher than an attack in Kabul in June, when a suicide attacker boarded a bus carrying Afghan police trainers and detonated a bomb, killing 24 people and wounding 35 others. More than 225 people have died in bombings this year, according to Afghan and U.N. officials. Last year, 305 died.

In Gereshk, investigators were trying to determine whether more than one bomb had been set off, given the number of people killed. Officials found a suicide vest and the bomber’s partial remains at the scene, but no evidence of a car bomb.

“We don’t really understand,” Manaf said. “We just have a vest and a pair of legs.”

Afghanistan experienced the second highest number of suicide bombings in the world in 2006 and so far in 2007, according to Mohammed Hafiz, a political science professor at the University of Missouri who tracks suicide bombings. He said Afghanistan trailed only Iraq, which had 322 suicide bombings this year through the end of August, and 179 in all of 2006.

A former Taliban commander told U.N. investigators that half of suicide bombers had been foreigners and that “almost all undergo some form of training and preparation in madrasas based in Pakistan,” the report said.

“Over 80 percent of suicide attackers pass through recruitment, training facilities or safe houses in North or South Waziristan en route to their targets inside Afghanistan,” it added.