Blast kills at least 34 in Afghan city

Bank bomb­ing may be the first in­stance of a large, co­or­di­nated Is­lamic State-led attack in the coun­try.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Ali M. Lat­ifi Lat­ifi is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

KABUL, Afghanistan — A sui­cide bomb­ing out­side a crowded bank has left at least 34 peo­ple dead and more than 120 wounded in eastern Afghanistan.

If claims by the ex­trem­ist group are cor­rob­o­rated, the ex­plo­sion Satur­day may be the first in­stance of a large, co­or­di­nated Is­lamic Stateled attack in the coun­try.

In the days lead­ing up to their state visit to Wash­ing­ton in March, high-level of­fi­cials in the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani had re­peat­edly warned that Is­lamic State mil­i­tants were present in Afghanistan but not yet ready to carry out an as­sault.

At the time of the attack, dozens of peo­ple — mainly gov­ern­ment work­ers and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials col­lect­ing their salaries — were wait­ing out­side the bank branch in Jalal­abad, the cap­i­tal of Nan­garhar prov­ince.

Fazel Ah­mad Sherzad, Jalal­abad city po­lice chief, said at a news con­fer­ence that an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was still un­der­way.

“It was a sui­cide attack.… It is early to say what kind of sui­cide bomber” com­mit­ted the act, Sherzad said.

A group claim­ing to be­long to Is­lamic State re­leased its own ac­count of the attack.

Shahidul­lah Shahid, who said he is a spokesman for the group in Afghanistan, claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity. Images cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia ac­counts claim­ing to be al­lied with Is­lamic State pur­ported to show the bomber stand­ing in front of a black flag as­so­ci­ated with the Sunni ex­trem­ist group that has seized large swaths of Syria and Iraq.

In a state­ment, Ghani, who was on his way to Badakhshan in the ex­treme north­east where last week 23 mem­bers of the Afghan army died in a se­ries of at­tacks, con­demned the Jalal­abad bomb­ing.

Ghani called it a “cow­ardly and heinous ter­ror­ist attack on civil­ians.”

In a state­ment to the Reuters news agency, a Tal­iban spokesman said, “It was an evil act. We strongly condemn it.”

Mean­while, in Kabul on Satur­day, the par­lia­ment ap­proved 16 can­di­dates to head min­istries and to other high-level posts. The law­mak­ers, in their sec­ond at­tempt in four months to ap­prove a com­plete Cabi­net, failed to pro­vide a leader for the De­fense Min­istry. But they did se­lect three more women to help run the gov­ern­ment, head­ing the min­istries of women’s af­fairs; higher ed­u­ca­tion; and la­bor, so­cial af­fairs, mar­tyrs and the dis­abled.

As­so­ci­ated Press

SOME OF the more than 120 peo­ple in­jured when a sui­cide bomber at­tacked in Jalal­abad, Afghanistan.

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