The Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on a wedding party in Kabul on Saturday night in which at least 63 people were killed.
A statement by the militant group posted on an IS-linked website on Sunday said a Pakistani IS fighter seeking martyrdom targeted the large Shiite gathering.
The IS affiliate claimed that, after the suicide bombing, a car bomb was also detonated in the attack.
Afghan officials said nearly 200 people were injured in the blast in a western neighbourhood of the capital that is home to many in the minority Shiites Hazara community.
Survivors said the bomber was standing by a stage where children and others had gathered when he detonated his explosives vest.
IS has claimed responsibility for many deadly attacks against the Hazara community since the militant group emerged in Afghanistan in 2014.
Interior Ministry spokesman Nusrat Rahimi confirmed the casualty toll on Sunday as families began to bury the dead. Some helped to dig graves with their bare hands.
Kabul residents were outraged as there appears to be no end to violence even as the United States and the Taliban say they are nearing a deal to end their 18-year conflict, America’s longest war.
The Taliban condemned the attack as “forbidden and unjustifiable” and denied any involvement. Both the Taliban and IS have carried large-scale attacks in the Afghan capital in the past.
Ahmad Omid, a survivor, said about 1,200 guests had been invited to the wedding of his father’s cousin.
“I was with the groom in the other room when we heard the blast and then I couldn’t find anyone,” he said. “Everyone was lying all around the hall.”
Amid the carnage were blood-covered chairs, crushed music speakers and a pile of abandoned shoes.
The blast at the hall, known as Dubai City wedding hall, shattered a period of relative calm in Kabul.
On August 7, a Taliban car bomb aimed at Afghan security forces detonated his explosives on the same road, killing 14 people and wounding 145 – most of them women, children and other civilians.
Kabul’s huge, brightly lit wedding halls are centres of community life in a city weary of decades of war, with thousands of dollars spent on a single evening.
“Devastated by the news of a suicide attack inside a wedding hall in Kabul. A heinous crime against our people; how is it possible to train a human and ask him to go and blow himself (up) inside a wedding?!!” presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said in a Twitter post.
Messages of shock poured in on Sunday.
“Such acts are beyond condemnation,” the European Union mission to Afghanistan said, while US Ambassador John Bass branded it “an act of extreme depravity”.
The wedding halls also serve as meeting places, and in November, at least 55 people were killed when a suicide bomber sneaked into a Kabul wedding hall where hundreds of Muslim religious scholars and clerics had gathered to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
Saturday night’s explosion came a few days after the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, with Kabul residents visiting family and friends, and just ahead of Afghanistan’s 100th Independence Day on Monday. The city, long familiar with checkpoints and razor wire, has been under heavier security ahead of the event.
The blast also comes at a greatly uncertain time in Afghanistan as the US and the Taliban appear close to a deal on ending the war.
The Afghan government has been sidelined from those discussions, and presidential spokesman Mr Seddiqi on Saturday said his government was waiting to hear results of President Donald Trump’s meeting on Friday with his national security team about the negotiations.
Top issues include a US troop withdrawal and Taliban guarantees that they would not allow Afghanistan to become a launching pad for global terror attacks.
But many Afghans fear that terror attacks inside the country will continue, and their pleas for peace — and for details on the talks — have increased in recent days.
“Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists,” President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter on Sunday, declaring a day of mourning and calling the attack “inhumane.’
Frustration at the authorities has also grown.
“We want the government to stop arguing about power and act like a human being to bring peace to this country,” said Hajji Reza, a worker at the wedding hall.