IS claims Afghanistan suicide attack that killed 33: president
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.
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.