At least eight dead in Kabul suicide blast near clerics’ gathering

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At least eight people were killed Monday when a suicide bomber detonated near a gathering of top clerics in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, shortly after the group called such attacks a sin, police said.

“Our initial information shows that the suicide attack took place when guests were exiting the tent” where the meeting was being held at around 11.30 am (0700 GMT), police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai told local broadcaster Tolo News.

“According to our initial information, seven people have been killed including a policeman. Nine others have been injured, including two policemen.”

Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said at least 12 people had been killed and wounded, but did not give a breakdown.

The attacker detonated outside the tent, known as the Loya Jirga tent, or “grand council” in Pashto, where gatherings of top clerics and government officials are often held, Stanikzai said.

A security source confirmed it had been a suicide attack.

No group has yet claimed the attack, but both the Taliban and the Islamic State group are stepping up their headline-grabbing assaults on the heavily fortified capital, making it the most deadly place in the country for civilians.

The Taliban recently issued a warning for civilians to “keep away” from military and intelligence centres in Kabul as they were planning more attacks.

Local media said that some 3,000 clerics had gathered at the tent for the meeting of the Ulema Council, Afghanistan’s top religious leaders.

Earlier they issued a fatwa against the ongoing conflict in the country, terming suicide attacks a sin against Islam. They have issued such fatwas in the past.

“The ongoing war in Afghanistan does not have a legal basis, only Afghans are the victims of this war... (it) does not have religious, national or human value,” they said, according to government officials.

Roads around the tent were quickly blocked by security officials after the blast, with heavy traffic jams building in the city.

Kabul accounted for 16 percent of all civilian casualties last year, when 1,831 civilians were killed or wounded nationwide, according to the United Nations.

The myriad attacks in the last 12 months included two of the deadliest in the city since the US invasion: a truck bomb on May 31, 2017 that killed more than 150 people, and an ambulance bomb on January 27 this year which killed more than 100.

The UN has warned that 2018 could be even deadlier.

Many fearful residents have restricted their movements as a result, afraid to linger in bazaars or to become trapped in traffic during rush hour, a prime time for attacks.

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