At least 50 killed and 75 injured in Kabul suicide bombing

Attack on crowded religious gathering is first major bombing in Afghan capital since September

Afghan health workers carry an injured person outside the emergency hospital after a suicide attack targeted a wedding hall, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photograph: Jawad Jalali/EPA

Afghan health workers carry an injured person outside the emergency hospital after a suicide attack targeted a wedding hall, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photograph: Jawad Jalali/EPA

 

At least 50 people were killed and 75 injured in the bombing of a crowded religious gathering in Kabul on Tuesday.

Afghan officials were trying to determine the exact toll of dead and wounded after the attack at the Uranus Wedding Palace, near Kabul’s international airport. Wahid Majrooh, spokesman for the public health ministry, said 24 of the wounded were in critical condition.

Witnesses said there were a thousand people inside the hall when the explosion took place. They included clerics and religious scholars along with others who had gathered to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, a national holiday in Afghanistan.

Najib Danish, the spokesman for the interior ministry, called it a suicide bombing and confirmed the death toll. President Ashraf Ghani called the attack “a crime against Islam and humanity” and declared Wednesday a national day of mourning.

Shamsul Dua (50), an ice cream vendor, emerged from the hall with his hands, feet and clothing covered in blood. He said the explosion took place seven or eight minutes after the gathering began. “I could only see smoke and debris started falling from the ceiling,” he said. “I personally saw 30 or 40 dead.”

Mr Dua said he had ridden 40 minutes on his bicycle to attend the gathering, which was held at the hall annually. It was 40 minutes before ambulances arrived to evacuate many of the wounded, he said.

Ambulances were seen still coming and going from the wedding palace an hour after the blast, which took place at about 6.15pm (1.45pm Irish time).

Muhammad Hashim (36), a survivor, said the blast occurred as verses from the Koran were being recited to begin the commemoration. “A lot of people were trampled as others were trying to flee,” he said. “There are a lot more than 40 dead in there.”

Soft targets

Nek Amal (18), was among many who gathered outside the hall seeking news of friends and family members inside. “My brother is inside and I’ve been trying to reach him but he is not answering the phone,” Mr Amal said. “He is there with many friends of his and they’re not answering their phones either.”

Wedding halls, mosques and religious gatherings have been particular targets of the Islamic State terror group in Afghanistan, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. It was the first major bombing in the capital since an Islamic State suicide bomber struck a wrestling gym in September, killing as many as 30 wrestlers during a training session.

After a period of frequent, gruesome attacks against soft targets in the capital over the summer, Afghan security forces have made it a priority to disrupt Islamic State cells in Kabul, with assistance ordered by the new commander of US and Nato troops in the country, Gen Austin Scott Miller.

Dozens of suspects were arrested in the capital in September on the eve of Ashura, a Shia annual commemoration that has frequently been targeted. Officials believe those raids significantly lowered the number of attacks.

The Taliban, still responsible for most of the escalating violence throughout the country, have disavowed attacks on civilian targets. There has been speculation that Taliban insurgents, at least, have been refraining from suicide attacks in the capital as they explore preliminary peace talks with the US government. – New York Times