ISIS claims deadly twin Kabul blasts
At least 80 dead, 237 wounded in attack on Shiite Hazara protesters in the Afghan capital
At least 80 people were killed and another 231 wounded in the Afghan capital on Saturday, when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-packed clothing among a large crowd of demonstrators, officials and witnesses said.
In a statement issued by its news agency, Aamaq, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on a protest march by Afghanistan's ethnic Hazaras. The marchers were demanding that a major regional electric power line be routed through their impoverished home province. Most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims, while most Afghans are Sunni.
The attack is one of the deadliest in Afghanistan since the Taliban launched a violent insurgency in 2001.
If the IS claim is correct, the bombing would mark the first time the group has launched an attack in the Afghan capital. IS has been building a presence along Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan, mostly in Nangarhar province, for the past year.
President Ashraf Ghani, speaking live on television, said that Sunday would be a national day of mourning.
Earlier, Waheed Majroeh, the head of international relations for the Ministry of Public Health, said the death toll was likely to rise "as the condition of many of the injured is very serious."
Footage on Afghan television and photographs posted on social media showed a scene of horror and carnage, with numerous bodies and body parts spread across the square.
Other witnesses said that after the blast, security personnel shot their weapons in the air to disperse the crowd. Secondary attacks have been known to target people who come to the aid of those wounded in a first explosion.
“Two fighters from Islamic State detonated explosive belts at a gathering of Shiites in the city of Kabul in Afghanistan,” said a brief statement on the group’s Amaq news agency.
The attack was the worst in months and if confirmed as the work of ISIS, would represent a major escalation for a group which has hitherto been largely confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar.
The explicit reference to the Hazara's Shia religious affiliation also represents a menacing departure for Afghanistan, where the bloody rivalry between Sunni and Shia typical of Iraq has been relatively rare, despite decades of war.
Shortly before the ISIS statement, the Taliban’s spokesman sent an email denying any Taliban involvement in the blast.
Mohammad Ismail Kawousi, a spokesman for the ministry of public health, said the dead and wounded had been taken to nearby hospitals. He added that the toll could rise further, “as the condition of many of the injured is very serious.”
The spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that the central government had shared intelligence with the march organizers of a protest march in Kabul that was bombed, warning that the marchers faced a possible “terrorist attack.”
He said government officials had warned the organizers that they risked attack because, “We knew that terrorists wanted to bring sectarianism to Kabul, and cause splits within our community.”
The president was expected to meet leaders of the Hazara demonstrators later in the day. Many of the leaders did not attend Saturday’s demonstration.
The protesters were demanding that a major regional electric power line be routed through their impoverished home province.
One of the march organizers Laila Mohammadi said she arrived at the scene soon after the blast and saw “many dead and wounded people.”
Second protest march
It is the second march against the current route of a multi-million-dollar regional electricity line. The last one in May attracted tens of thousands.
The so-called TUTAP line is backed by the Asian Development Bank with involvement of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The original plan routed the line through Bamiyan province, in the central highlands, where most of the country’s Hazaras live.
That route was changed in 2013 by the previous Afghan government.
(With The Associated Press, Reuters, AP and AFP)