Kabul suicide bombing: Heavy casualties in New Year's blast

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New Year’s festivities in the Afghan capital of Kabul turned deadly on Wednesday, after a suicide bomber detonated himself near the city’s main university, killing at least 26 people.

Another 18 people were injured in the blast, according to Interior Ministry officials. Several women and children were among the casualties. 

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi warned the death toll was likely to rise.

Read more: Kabul residents in shock after wave of violence

The “Islamic State” (IS) jihadi group claimed responsibility for the blast.

Shiite worshippers targeted

The explosion went off on a road leading towards the Shiite Kart-e Sakhi shrine, where locals had gathered to mark the Persian New Year, known in Afghanistan as Nauruz. The country’s Shiite minority typically marks the holiday by visiting such shrines. 

Rahimi said that the bomber had sought to detonate himself by the shrine, but couldn’t get closer due to tight security. Instead, “he detonated his explosive on Kabul University Road, right in front of Ali Abad hospital, among the civilians who were on the way to shrine,” he added.

Kabul’s police chief, General Daud Amin, said the bomber had managed to slip past police checkpoints set up along the road. Authorities had already launched an inestigation into the security breach and anyone found to have neglected their duties would be punished, he added.

Extremist threats

IS claimed responsibility for the blast, according to the militant group’s news agency, Amaq. “The martyrdom operation carried out with a suicide vest struck a Shiite gathering during their Nauruz holiday celebrations in the city of Kabul,” it said.

Afghanistan’s Shiite population has repeatedly been targeted by IS affiliates, who view the minority group as apostates of Islam. The Kart-e Sakhi shrine has been a target for previous militant attacks. In October 2016, IS gunmen killed 18 people who had gathered there to mark Ashura, a Muslim day of celebration that carries added significance for Shiites.

Read more: Why is ‘Islamic State’ targeting Shiites in Afghanistan?

The latest suicide attack further undermines promises from Kabul authorities to step up security in the city in the wake of an attack in January that killed around 100 people.

Afghanistan has been besieged by a wave extremist attacks since January by powerful IS affiliate groups that still remain powerful in the country. The Taliban has also been resurgent since the withdrawal of US-led NATO troops at the end of 2014, having taken back territory in Afghanistan and devastated the country’s beleaguered security forces.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered last month to hold peace talks with the Taliban, although the militant group has shown no intention to sit down.

dm/rt (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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