IS claims Afghanistan sui­cide attack that killed 33: pres­i­dent

The China Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY SAMOON MIAKHIL

The Is­lamic State group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for a sui­cide attack Satur­day that killed 33 peo­ple and wounded more than 100 oth­ers in eastern Afghanistan, Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani said, in what ap­pears to be the first ma­jor attack by the ji­hadists in the coun­try.

Ghani’s gov­ern­ment has re­peat­edly raised the omi­nous prospect of IS mak­ing in­roads into Afghanistan, though the group that has cap­tured swaths of ter­ri­tory in Syria and Iraq has never for­mally ac­knowl­edged hav­ing a pres­ence in Afghanistan.

The Tal­iban have seen de­fec­tions to the group in re­cent months, with some self- styled IS in­sur­gents voic­ing their dis­af­fec­tion with their one- eyed supreme leader Mul­lah Omar, who has not been seen since the 2001 U.S.-led in­va­sion of Afghanistan.

On Satur­day a sui­cide bomber killed 33 peo­ple and wounded 115 oth­ers out­side a bank in the city of Jalal­abad as gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials were col­lect­ing their salaries, in the dead­li­est attack since Novem­ber.

The scene of the bomb­ing showed the grue­some scale of the car­nage with vic­tims ly­ing in pools of blood and body parts scat­tered across the ground.

“Who claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for hor­rific attack in Nan­garhar to­day? The Tal­iban did not claim re­spon­si­bil­ity for the attack, Daesh ( IS) claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Ghani said on a visit to north­east­ern Badakhshan prov­ince.

A per­son pur­port­ing to be an IS spokesman said in a call to AFP that the group was be­hind the bomb­ing.

An on­line post­ing al­legedly from IS made the same claim, which could not be im­me­di­ately ver­i­fied.

“Thirty- three dead bod­ies and more than 100 wounded were brought to the hos­pi­tal,” Dr. Na­jee­bul­lah Ka­mawal, head of the pro­vin­cial hos­pi­tal, told AFP.

The U.N. gave a higher toll, say­ing 35 peo­ple had been killed and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment spokesman Ah­mad Zia Ab­dulzai said 115 peo­ple were wounded, four of them crit­i­cally.

Ghani strongly con­demned the attack, which saw chil­dren among those killed, his of­fice said in a state­ment.

“Car­ry­ing out ter­ror­ist at­tacks in cities and public places are the most cow­ardly acts of ter­ror by ter­ror­ists tar­get­ing in­no­cent civil­ians,” he said.

The bomb­ing comes as Afghanistan braces for what is ex­pected to be a bloody push by the Tal­iban at the start of the spring fight­ing sea­son.

How­ever, the Tal­iban swiftly de­nied re­spon­si­bil­ity for Satur­day’s car­nage — as it of­ten does for at­tacks with large civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.

“The an­nounce­ment by the IS to­day is alarm­ing, if ver­i­fied, and would mean that Afghanistan should pre­pare for a bloody sum­mer, maybe the blood­i­est in the past 14 years,” Ha­roon Mir, a Kabul-based po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, told AFP.

“The IS pres­ence has never been con­fi­dently con­firmed, and we still have to be cau­tious about claims made in the name of IS.”

Civil­ian Toll Rises

The mil­i­tants have stepped up at­tacks on gov­ern­ment and for­eign tar­gets since Wash­ing­ton backpedaled on plans to shrink the U.S. force in Afghanistan this year by nearly half.

The uptick in at­tacks in re­cent days has taken a heavy toll on or­di­nary Afghans.

The num­ber of civil­ians killed and wounded in Afghanistan jumped 22 per­cent in 2014, a re­cent U.N. re­port said, as NATO troops with­drew from com­bat.

The United Na­tions As­sis­tance Mission in Afghanistan ( UNAMA) at­trib­uted the rise to an in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion in ground fight­ing, re­sult­ing in a to­tal of 10,548 civil­ian ca­su­al­ties last year.

NATO’s com­bat mission for­mally ended in De­cem­ber but a small fol­low-up for­eign force has stayed on to train and sup­port the lo­cal se­cu­rity forces.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama last month backpedaled on plans to shrink the U.S. force in Afghanistan this year by nearly half, an over­ture to the coun­try’s new re­form- minded leader, Ghani.

Host­ing Ghani at the White House for their first pres­i­den­tial face- to- face meet­ing, Obama agreed to keep the cur­rent level of 9,800 U. S. troops un­til the end of 2015.

The Tal­iban, who have waged a deadly in­sur­gency since they were ousted from power in late 2001, warned that the an­nounce­ment would dam­age any prospects of peace talks as they vowed to con­tinue fight­ing.

AP

Afghan men as­sist an in­jured man at the site of a sui­cide attack near to a new Kabul Bank in Jalal­abad, east of Kabul on Satur­day, April 18.

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