Wednesday 19 December 2018

Isil suicide bomber kills 57 as Afghans queue for voting cards

A Kabul resident walks on the blood-stained pavement out side the voter registration centre in the Afghan capital that was attacked by an Islamic State suicide bomber, killing at least 57 people and injuring 119. Photo: AP/Rahmat Gul
A Kabul resident walks on the blood-stained pavement out side the voter registration centre in the Afghan capital that was attacked by an Islamic State suicide bomber, killing at least 57 people and injuring 119. Photo: AP/Rahmat Gul

Qadir Sediqi and Sayed Hassib in Kabul

Isil claimed responsibility for the attack on a project of key importance to the credibility of President Ashraf Ghani's government in Afghanistan.

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said a bomber on foot approached the centre in Kabul where officials were issuing identity cards as part of the registration process for around 10 million voters across the country. Registration began this month.

President Ghani - under international pressure to hold long-delayed parliamentary elections this year - condemned the attack and said it "cannot divert us from our aims or weaken this national democratic process".

The ministry of public health reported that at least 57 people were dead and 119 wounded, but the total could still rise.

The explosion destroyed cars and shattered windows in nearby buildings, leaving rubble strewn across the blood-stained street.

It was the deadliest blast in the capital since about 100 people were killed in January by a bomb concealed in an ambulance and it came after repeated warnings militants could try to disrupt the election process.

Tadamichi Yamamoto, the senior United Nations official in Afghanistan, condemned the attack: "Compounding the callous disregard for the lives of civilians, the killing appears to be part of a wholly unacceptable effort by extremists to deter Afghan citizens from carrying out their constitutional right to take part in elections."

After weeks of relative calm the blast took place in Dasht-e Barchi, an area of western Kabul inhabited by many members of the mainly Shi'ite Hazara minority, which has been repeatedly hit by attacks claimed by Islamic State.

"There were women, children. Everyone had come to get their identity cards," said Bashir Ahmad who had been near the blast, which occurred despite heightened security after the January attack.

According to UN figures, more than 750 people have been killed or maimed in suicide attacks and bombings by militant groups during the three months to March ahead of an expected start of the Taliban's usual spring offensive.

Afghanistan's international partners have insisted the elections should be held this year before a presidential vote due in 2019.

More than 7,000 voter registration centres have been set up for a process that has been disrupted by technical and organisational problems.

Officials had pledged tight security but those caught by yesterday's attack voiced frustration at what many Kabul residents see as government failures in securing the capital.

"They should be keeping the country safe, if they can't, someone else should be in their place," said Sajeda, who was wounded in the blast along with three other members of her family as they lined up for their cards.

Meanwhile, a roadside bomb near a registration centre in the northern city of Pul-i Khumri killed six members of a family and wounded three yesterday. There was no direct link to the Kabul attack.

Last week, two police officers in the eastern city of Jalalabad were killed outside a voter registration centre, while a centre in the central province of Ghor was burned down and electoral officials briefly abducted.

Parliament is still sitting three years after its term officially expired.

Irish Independent

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