An ISIS attack on a prison in eastern Afghanistan holding hundreds of its members raged on Monday after killing at least 21 people in fighting overnight, a local official said.
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Another 43 people have been wounded in the attack that began late Sunday when an ISIS suicide bomber slammed his explosive-laden vehicle into the prison entrance.
More assailants opened fire. Three attackers have been killed so far but the battle continued Monday with sporadic gunfire still coming from the prison grounds, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province.
Some of the dead were prisoners, said Khogyani. as well as civilians, prison guards and Afghan security personnel.
The prison assault struck Jalalabad, Nangarhar's provincial capital some 115 kilometers (70 miles) east of the capital, Kabul.
The ISIS’ affiliate in Afghanistan, known as IS in Khorasan province, claimed responsibility for the attack. The affiliate is headquartered in Nangarhar province.
The motive of the attack wasn't immediately clear. However, some prisoners have escaped during the fighting, said another provincial official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
The prison houses about 1,500 inmates, of which several hundred are believed to belong to the ISIS group affiliate in Afghanistan.
The attack comes a day after the Afghan intelligence agency said a senior ISIS group commander was killed by Afghan special forces near Jalalabad.
While the ISIS group has seen its so-called caliphate stretching across Iraq and Syria eliminated after a years long campaign, the group has continued fighting in Afghanistan. The extremists also have battled the Taliban in the country, whom the US overthrew following the 2001 American-led invasion after the September 11 attacks.
The Taliban’s political spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told The Associated Press that his group was not involved in the Jalalabad attack. The US struck a peace deal with the Taliban in February. A second, crucial round of negotiations between the Taliban and the political leadership in Kabul has yet to start. Still, Washington and NATO already have begun withdrawing troops in line with the deal.
“We have a cease-fire and are not involved in any of these attacks anywhere in the country,” he said.
The Taliban declared a three-day cease-fire starting Friday for the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. The cease-fire expired at 12 a.m. Monday though it wasn't immediately clear if it would be extended as the US pushes for an early start to intra-Afghan negotiations that have repeatedly been delayed since Washington signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February.
The Taliban also had denied being involved in a suicide bombing in eastern Logar province late Thursday that killed at least nine people and wounded 40.
Afghanistan has seen a recent spike in violence, with most attacks claimed by the local ISIS group affiliate.