Islamic State claims Kabul suicide bombing that killed 63
Attack on wedding comes as Taliban seeks to negotiate deal on US withdrawal
The Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for a suicide blast at a wedding reception in Afghanistan that killed 63 people, underlining the continuing dangers the country faces even if the Taliban does agree a pact with the US.
The Saturday night attack came as the Taliban and the US try to negotiate an agreement over the withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with Afghanistan’s US-backed government.
Islamic State fighters, who first appeared in Afghanistan in 2014 and have since made inroads in the east and north, are not involved in the talks. They are battling government and US-led international forces and the Taliban.
Crowd of ‘infidels’
The group, in a statement on the messaging website Telegram, claimed responsibility for the attack at a west Kabul wedding hall, in a minority Shia neighbourhood, saying its bomber had been able to infiltrate the reception and detonate his explosives in the crowd of “infidels”.
Islamic State, also known as Isis, has claimed some of the most bloody attacks in Afghan cities over the past couple of years, with some aimed at the Shia minority.
The Taliban had earlier denied responsibility for the Kabul attack and condemned it.
More than 180 people were wounded, with many women and children among the casualties, interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said on Sunday, as families thronged to Kabul’s crowded cemeteries.
“We want peace, not such brutal suicide attacks,” said Ahmad Khan, who was burying a relative.
Pictures from the scene of the blast posted on social media showed bodies strewn amid overturned tables and chairs at the wedding hall, with dark blood stains on the carpet.
Both the bride and groom survived. “I won’t ever be able to forget this, however much I try,” the groom, identified as Mirwais, told the TOLOnews channel.
He said his cousin and some friends had been killed.
“I can’t go to the funerals, I feel very weak ... I know that this won’t be the last suffering for Afghans, the suffering will continue.”
The bride’s father told TOLOnews 14 members of his family were killed.
Wedding halls have become big business in Kabul as the Afghan economy slowly picked up and families spent more on celebrations. Big, brightly lit halls now line some suburban streets in the city, and bombers have targeted them before.
At least 40 people were killed in a wedding-hall blast in Kabul last November.
No let-up in fighting
There has been no let-up in fighting and bomb attacks in Afghanistan over recent months, despite the US-Taliban talks ongoing since late last year.
In the northern province of Balkh, 11 civilians were killed on Sunday when a roadside bomb blew up their van, police said.
President Ashraf Ghani, in comments on the Kabul blast before the Islamic State claim, said the Taliban could not “absolve themselves of blame for they provide a platform for terrorists”.
The Taliban have been fighting to expel foreign forces and to re-establish an Islamic Afghan state since they were ousted in October 2001, weeks after the September 11th attacks on the US.
Both US negotiators and the Taliban have reported progress after eight rounds of talks since late last year. But some Afghans were sceptical about the effort, amid the carnage.
US president Donald Trump has made no secret of his desire for a US pullout from Afghanistan and an end to America’s longest war.
But there are concerns among Afghan officials and US national security aides that Afghanistan could afterwards plunge into a new civil war that could see a return of Taliban rule and international militants, including Islamic State, finding a refuge.
Some 14,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, training and advising Afghan security forces and conducting counterinsurgency operations. – Reuters