A suicide bomber apparently wearing a burqa detonated in a busy bazaar in southwestern Afghanistan Thursday, killing 16 people including four policemen, a provincial governor said.
The extremist Taliban movement, which regularly uses suicide attacks in its campaign against the government, immediately claimed responsibility for the blast in Farah province's Delaram district.
Police were the target, Farah deputy governor Mohammad Younus Rasouli said.
"Twelve civilians have been killed and 22 others wounded. Four police have been killed and six others wounded," he told AFP.
Rasouli said the body of the bomber was destroyed. "But we have found pieces of women's dress, shoes and a burqa," he said, referring to the all-covering garment worn by most Afghan women which also hides the face.
The interior ministry in Kabul gave a lower death toll, saying seven civilians and five policemen were killed.
The police chief for southwestern Afghanistan, Ikramuddin Yawar, also said investigations had shown the bomber was wearing a burqa.
"The bomber wore a burqa, which indicates it might be a woman," he said.
If confirmed the bomber was female, it would be the first known suicide attack carried out by a woman. Male attackers have sometimes worn burqas as a disguise.
Juma Khan, an official in the provincial police department said women and children were also probably killed in the blast in a crowded bazaar.
"The bombing was in a crowded bazaar. We think there might be women and children among the casualties," he told AFP.
Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi said a member of his organisation -- whom he identified as a man named Khalid -- carried out the bombing, which he said killed a dozen police and was aimed a police commander.
The Taliban were in government between 1996 and 2001 and were ousted in a US-led invasion for harbouring Al Qaeda leaders after the 9/11 suicide attacks.
Their insurgency was at its bloodiest last year, and routinely steps up over spring, with a surge in violence in the past weeks.
In the deadliest suicide attack in recent weeks, a blast among a team of police and officials preparing to eradicate opium poppy fields in eastern Afghanistan killed 19 people on April 29. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
The insurgency is mainly focused in southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan, along the long and porous border where the rebels are said to crossing over from Pakistan.
But Farah and neighbouring Nimroz province both bordering Iran have seen a spike in militant attacks over the past two years.
Four Taliban were killed in separate battles with Afghan soldiers in Nimroz on Wednesday, the defence ministry said.
Another militant was killed and 13 captured in a raid by US-led troops in southern Helmand province's Garmser district where US Marines and British forces launched a major operation against rebels two week ago, it said.