The number of people killed when a bomb went off at an election rally in northeastern Afghanistan has climbed to at least 22, officials said on Saturday.
The explosion happened in Takhar province where scores of people had gathered to listen to a speech by a woman standing as a candidate in the parliamentary polls on October 20.
Jawad Hejri, spokesman for Takhar governor, said at least 22 people died and 36 were wounded in the attack, in Rustaq district.
Ambulances have been sent to the remote district of Rustaq where the attack happened, but officials also are seeking to airlift the wounded to hospitals, Hejri said.
Explosives had been placed on a motorcycle near the rally, which was to have been addressed by the candidate, Nazifa Yousufi Bek.
The victims included security officials and civilians, a local police official said, adding that the candidate was not at the rally at the time.
No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. It is the third attack against the election campaign process this month.
Bek is one of 417 women contesting seats across the country, more than ever before.
More than 2,500 candidates are contesting the long-delayed legislative elections. Candidates, regardless of gender, are braving violence and opposition from social conservatives in a campaign seen as a test of the war-torn nation's democratic institutions.
At least nine candidates have been killed in separate attacks so far, most of them in targeted killings, according to the Independent Election Commission.
Another two have been abducted, and four others have been wounded by hardline Islamist militants, election officials said.
Takhar, a province bordering Tajikistan, has long been a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban have told Afghans to boycott the upcoming polls.
In the western province of Herat, gunmen attacked the election campaign office of a candidate, killing a security guard and a child, said Jailani Farhad, a spokesman for the Herat governor.
A candidate was among eight people killed in a suicide attack in the southern province of Helmand- a Taliban stronghold- on October 9. No group has claimed responsibility.
That incident came a day after the Taliban warned candidates to pull out of the “bogus” election, describing it as a “malicious American conspiracy”.
The group vowed to attack the ballot and those involved in it.
An attack on a rally in the eastern province of Nangarhar on October 2 killed 13 people and wounded more than 40. ISIS extremist group claimed the attack, which the candidate survived.
Violence had been expected to escalate ahead of the poll.
Preparations for the ballot, which is a test run for next year’s presidential vote, have been in turmoil for months and there has been debate about whether the vote should go ahead.
Bureaucratic inefficiency, allegations of industrial-scale fraud and an eleventh-hour pledge for biometric verification of voters threaten to derail the process, which is three years late.
Some 54,000 members of Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces will be responsible for protecting more than 5,000 polling centers on election day.
But there are concerns over how they will manage as the Taliban and ISIS extremist group step up attacks across the country.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attacks in a statement, saying that the enemies of Afghans cannot weaken the will of the nation.
US ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass condemned the violence, and called on the Taliban to do the same.
“If the group (the Taliban) is serious about the peace process it will do the same and punish those responsible,” he said in a tweet.
In another related development, A Taliban delegation has met with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar on Friday, to discuss ending the Afghan conflict, the militant group said Saturday, in the first official confirmation of talks between the two sides. Full story