Monday 16 July 2018

Dozens killed in IS attack on Kabul cultural centre

Soldiers patrol outside the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)
Soldiers patrol outside the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)

A brutal attack claimed by Islamic State has devastated a Shiite Muslim cultural centre in the Afghan capital Kabul, killing at least 41 people and wounding another 84.

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said three bombs were used in the ferocious assault as well as a single suicide bomber who blew himself up inside the centre, where scores of people had gathered to mark the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union.

Other explosions occurred outside the two-storey building, which also houses the pro-Iranian Afghan Voice news agency, which may also have been a target in the attack.

Earlier, interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said an unknown number of suicide attackers set off an explosion outside the centre before carrying out an attack inside.

In its statement to Aamaq, IS said the centre was being funded by Iran and used to propagate Shiite beliefs.

Ali Reza Ahmadi, a journalist with Afghan Voice, said he had been in his office when the explosion shattered the building.

He jumped from his second-storey office to the roof of the building, where he saw flames from the basement.

"I jumped from the roof towards the basement, yelling at people to get water to put out the fire," he said.

Shiite leader Abdul Hussain Ramazandada said witnesses reported that at least one suicide bomber sneaked into the event and was sitting among the participants.

He exploded his device and as people fled more explosions occurred, he said.

At nearby Istiqlal Hospital, director Mohammed Sabir Nasib said the emergency room was overwhelmed with the dead and wounded.

Additional doctors and nurses were called in to help and at the height of the tragedy more than 50 doctors and nurses were working to save the wounded, most of whom suffered severe burns.

The cultural centre is located in a poor area of the Shiite-dominated Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood in the west of the capital.

The centre is a simple structure surrounded by sun-dried mud homes where some of Kabul's poorest live.

A senior member of the Shiite cleric council, Mohammad Asif Mesbah, said the centre may have been targeted because it houses the deeply pro-Iranian Afghan Voice news agency.

Its owner Sayed Eissa Hussaini Mazari is a strong proponent of Iran and his publication is dominated by Iranian news. Iran is a majority Shiite Muslim nation.

The local IS affiliate has carried out several attacks targeting Shiites in Afghanistan.

IS issued a warning earlier this year following an attack on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul vowing to target Afghanistan's Shiites.

Since then, IS has taken credit for at least two attacks on Shiite mosques in Kabul and one in the western city of Herat, killing scores of worshippers.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied involvement in Thursday's attack on the cultural centre.

The IS affiliate, made up of Sunni extremists, view Shiites as apostates.

IS in Afghanistan is a toxic mix of Uzbek militants belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who broke with the Taliban, as well as disenchanted insurgents who left the much larger and more well-established Taliban.

As attacks targeting Shiites have increased in Kabul, residents of this area have grown increasingly afraid.

Most schools have additional armed guards from among the local population, but Mr Ramazandada said security at the cultural centre was light.

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani called the attack a "crime against humanity".

In a statement released by the presidential palace, Mr Ghani said: "The terrorists have killed our people.

"The terrorists have attacked our mosques, our holy places and now our cultural centre."

He called them attacks against Islam and "all human values".

In a statement, the US ambassador to Afghanistan John R Bass called the attack "horrific" and said "we remain confident the Afghan government and people, supported by their friends and partners, will defeat those behind these terrible acts".

Separately, Dawlat Abad district governor Mohammad Karim said a powerful mine killed six shepherd children ranging in age from eight to 10 on Wednesday.

Afghanistan has the highest number of mine victims in the world, which along with other roadside bombs, kill or wound an estimated 140 people every month.

Elsewhere, a Taliban attack on a security police post in central Ghazni province on Wednesday night left three police dead and one other wounded, said the provincial chief of police.

AP

Press Association

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