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Canberra man hurt in suicide bombing

A Canberra AusAID worker whose experiences as a peacekeeper in East Timor inspired a TV mini-series was seriously wounded in a suicide bomb explosion in Afghanistan on Monday.

David Savage, 49, is the first AusAID staff member wounded in Afghanistan and is believed to be the first serious Australian civilian casualty.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday her thoughts were with Mr Savage's wife and two grown-up children.

''He was involved in work outside the wire,'' she said. ''This is incredibly bad news for his family.''

Mr Savage - a former Australian Federal Police agent - had just left a community meeting in Chora, 25 kilometres to the north-east of Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan, when an assailant, possibly a juvenile, detonated an explosive vest. There were conflicting reports the attacker was on a motorbike.

There are reports this morning that the bomber was a boy of about 12.

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An AusAID statement said Mr Savage received medical treatment at the military base before being transferred to a medical facility in Kandahar.

Mr Savage's family issued a statement last night and said he was in a stable condition.

''David's career as a member of the AFP, a UN peacekeeper and now a member of the Australian Civilian Corps is an indication of his strong commitment to helping people in need,'' the statement said.

''That he should be injured while trying to help people is a difficult thing for us to understand. We would like to thank everyone for their well wishes.

''We would like to now concentrate on helping David in his recovery.''

It is believed the suicide bomber had targeted the convoy of ISAF armoured vehicles Mr Savage was travelling with.

Three of the soldiers, either Americans or Slovakians, were also injured in the blast. Some reports yesterday suggested the attack was a Taliban payback for the March 11 massacre of 17 Afghan civilians in Kandahar by US Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.

A Defence spokesman said there were no Australian troops in the area at the time of the attack.

More than 340 suicide bombings have taken place in Afghanistan since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Afghanistan security expert, Raspal Khosa, said the suicide attack marked a dark watershed.

''This is the first serious incident involving an Australian civilian in Afghanistan and certainly the first involving an AusAID adviser,'' he said. ''These are volunteers with specialist skills; they are out there trying to improve the lives of the local people in the Chora Valley and elsewhere.''

Mr Savage joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as a deputy director 17 months ago.

Parts of his story are well known thanks to the 2006 ABC mini-series Answered By Fire.

The series starred David Wenham and was adapted from a book about Mr Savage's experiences as a peacekeeper in East Timor in the lead-up to the independence referendum.

In the last decade he has also battled human traffickers in Myanmar, Bangkok and across south-east Asia; advised the Sri Lankan Presidential Commission of Inquiry into abuses during that country's civil war; and previously worked in Afghanistan as an adviser on human rights abuse investigations.

Mr Savage deployed to Uruzgan as part of the recently formed Australian Civilian Corps, one of the legacies of the Rudd government's 2020 Summit.

Mr Khosa said the ACC advisers had been sent mid-way through 2011 to allow DFAT to sidestep operational constraints imposed by the eight weeks on and four weeks off service entitlements of public service advisers.

''Under that system only two-thirds of the capability was on the ground at any one time,'' he said.

Mr Khosa said Afghanistan had become an even more dangerous and violent place since the Koran burnings and the killings in Kandahar.

''US concern over the [Kandahar] massacre is demonstrated by the fact reported payments to the families of the victims are up to 20 times higher than anything we've heard of before,'' he said.