80 Dead In Twin Blasts In Kabul During Protest, ISIS Claims Responsibility
Kabul: ISIS group terrorists claimed responsibility for twin explosions today that ripped through crowds of Shiite Hazaras in Kabul, killing at least 80 people and wounding 231 others in their first major attack in the Afghan capital.
The bombings, apparently aimed at sowing sectarian discord in a country well known for Shia-Sunni harmony, came as thousands of Hazaras gathered to protest over a multi-million-dollar power line.
Charred bodies and dismembered limbs littered the scene of the attack, with ambulances struggling to reach the site as authorities had overnight blocked key intersections with stacked shipping containers to control movement of the protesters.
“As a result of the attack 80 people were martyred and 231 others were wounded,” the interior ministry said in a statement.
“Based on initial information, the attack was carried out by three suicide bombers… The third attacker was gunned down by security forces.”
The wounded overwhelmed city hospitals, officials said, with reports emerging of blood shortages and urgent appeals for donors circulating on social media.
The Taliban, who are in the middle of their annual summer offensive and are more powerful than ISIS, strongly denied any involvement in the attack.
ISIS claimed the bombings in a statement carried by its affiliated Amaq news agency, calling it an attack on Shiites.
“Two fighters of the Islamic State detonated their explosive belts in a gathering of Shiites in… Kabul,” Amaq said.
The attack represents a major escalation for the ISIS group, which so has largely been confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar.
The National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, said the attack was masterminded by Abu Ali, an ISIS commander in Nangarhar’s volatile Achin district.
The attack came as thousands of demonstrators gathered to demand that a multi-million-dollar power line pass through their electricity-starved province of Bamiyan, one of the most deprived areas of Afghanistan with a large Hazara population.
“The horrific attack on a group of peaceful protestors in Kabul demonstrates the utter disregard that armed groups have for human life,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
“Such attacks are a reminder that the conflict in Afghanistan is not winding down, as some believe, but escalating, with consequences for the human rights situation in the country that should alarm us all.”
In a statement, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he was “deeply saddened” by the carnage, adding that the casualties included security officials.
“Holding protests is the right of every citizen of Afghanistan… but terrorists entered the protests, and carried out explosions that martyred and wounded a number of citizens including members of security forces,” the presidential palace said.
The protest march was largely peaceful before the explosions struck as the demonstrators sought to march on the presidential palace, waving flags and chanting slogans such as “death to discrimination”.
The 500-kilovolt TUTAP power line, which would connect the Central Asian nations of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan with electricity-hungry Afghanistan and Pakistan, was originally set to pass through the central province.
But the government re-routed it through the mountainous Salang pass north of Kabul, saying the shorter route would speed up the project and save millions of dollars.
Hazara leaders in the ethnically divided nation lashed out at the Pashtun president, calling the decision prejudiced against the Hazaras, a community that has suffered a long history of oppression.
The three million-strong Hazara community has been persecuted for decades, with thousands killed in the late 1990s by Al-Qaeda and the mainly Pashtun Sunni Taliban.
IS attack on Afghan protest kills 61 people, wounds 207
Kabul (AP): At least 61 people were killed and another 207 wounded in the Afghan capital today, when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-packed clothing among a large crowd of demonstrators, officials and witnesses said.
In a statement issued by its news agency, Aamaq, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on a protest march by Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazaras.
The marchers were demanding that a major regional electric power line be routed through their impoverished home province. Most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims but most Afghans are Sunni.
Waheed Majroeh, the head of international relations for the Ministry of Public Health, confirmed the death toll and said it was likely to rise “as the condition of many of the injured is very serious.”
The government had received intelligence that an attack could take place, and had warned the march organisers, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told The Associated Press.
“We had intelligence over recent days and it was shared with the demonstration organizers, we shared our concerns because we knew that terrorists wanted to bring sectarianism to our community,” presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said.
Two suicide bombers had attempted to target the demonstrators, who were gathering in Demazang Square as their four-hour protest march wound down and they were setting up a camp, Haroon Chakhansuri said. “One of them was shot by the police,” he told AP. He said that three district police chiefs on duty at the square were injured and another three security personnel were killed.
He said Ghani planned to meet with the organizers later on Saturday, and would make a live television appearance after that. One of the march organisers, Laila Mohammadi, said she arrived at the scene soon after the blast and saw “many dead and wounded people.”
Footage on Afghan television and photographs posted on social media showed a scene of horror and carnage, with numerous bodies and body parts spread across the square. Other witnesses said that after the blast, security personnel shot their weapons in the air to disperse the crowd. Secondary attacks have been known to target people who come to the aid of those wounded in a first explosion.
Ghani released a statement condemning the blast. “Peaceful demonstrations are the right of every citizen of Afghanistan and the government will do everything it can to provide them with security,” Ghani said, blaming the blasts on what he called “terrorists.”
Road blocks that had been set up overnight to prevent the marchers accessing the center of the city or the presidential palace hampered efforts to transfer some of the wounded to hospital, witnesses said. People took to social media to call for blood donations.
Angry demonstrations sealed some of the area around the square, and prevented police and other security forces from entering. Some threw stones at security forces.
The rights group Amnesty International said the “horrific attack demonstrates the utter disregard that armed groups have for human life.”
“Such attacks are a reminder that the conflict in Afghanistan is not winding down, as some believe, but escalating, with consequences for the human rights situation in the country that should alarm us all,” it quoted Champa Patel, Amnesty’s South Asia director, as saying.
Violence had been widely feared at what was the second demonstration by Hazaras over the power line issue. The last one in May attracted tens of thousands of people, also shutting down the central business district.
The May march was attended by Hazara political leaders, who were notable by their absence on Saturday.
At the height of the march, demonstrators chanted slogans against the president and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, shouting “death to discrimination” and “all Afghans are equal.”
The so-called TUTAP power line is backed by the Asian Development Bank with involvement of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The original plan routed the line through Bamiyan province, in the central highlands, where most of the country’s Hazaras live.
That route was changed in 2013 by the previous Afghan government. Leaders of the marches have said that the rerouting was evidence of bias against the Hazara community, which accounts for up to 15 percent of Afghanistan’s estimated 30 million-strong population.
They are considered the poorest of the country’s ethnic groups, and often complain of discrimination. Bamiyan province, where most Hazara people live in the central highlands, is poverty stricken, though it is largely peaceful and has potential as a tourist destination.
Hazaras, most of whom are Shiite Muslims, were especially persecuted during the extremist Sunni Taliban 1996-2001 regime. The Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an earlier email that his insurgent group was not responsible for the blast.
The Taliban have been waging a vicious insurgency against the Kabul government for 15 years, since their regime was overthrown by the US invasion in 2001. They rarely issue such statements denying involvement in suicide attacks.