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Islamic State claims responsibility for Kabul suicide bombing that kills 80

Published 23/07/2016

An Afghan protester scream near the scene of a suicide attack that targeted crowds of minority Shiite Hazaras during a demonstration at the Deh Mazang Circle in Kabul on July 23, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan protester scream near the scene of a suicide attack that targeted crowds of minority Shiite Hazaras during a demonstration at the Deh Mazang Circle in Kabul on July 23, 2016. AFP/Getty Images

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on a peaceful protest in the Afghan capital on Saturday that killed at least 80 people and wounded more than 200.

It marked the first time the extremists have struck Kabul and raised fears of their growing strength and capability in Afghanistan.

A bloodied man who carried dead and wounded, speaks on the phone at the site of a suicide attack an explosion that struck a protest march, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
A bloodied man who carried dead and wounded, speaks on the phone at the site of a suicide attack an explosion that struck a protest march, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

The attack was the deadliest to hit Kabul in 15 years of civil war. It hit a demonstration by Afghanistan's Hazara ethnic community, who were marching for a major regional power line to be routed through their home province.

The Hazaras are Shiite Muslims, most Afghans are Sunnis.

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. Bloodied survivors were seen being dragged clear for help, others walked around dazed or screaming.

Two suicide bombers had attempted to target the demonstrators, but one of them was shot by police before he could detonate his explosives, according to Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for Afghan president Ashraf Ghani.

He said that three city district police chiefs were injured and another three security personnel were killed.

Witnesses said that immediately after the blast, security forces shot 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.

Road blocks that had been set up overnight to prevent the marchers accessing the city centre or the presidential palace hampered efforts to transfer some of the wounded to hospital, witnesses said.

Angry demonstrators sealed some of the area around the square, and prevented police and other security forces from entering. Some threw stones at security forces.

Outside hospitals, huge queues formed as the public offered to donate blood.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said that 81 people had been killed and 231 wounded in the bombing.

Afghans help an injured man after an explosion struck a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 23, 2016. Witnesses in Kabul say that an explosion struck the protest march by members of Afghanistan's largely Shiite Hazara ethnic minority group, demanding that a major regional electric power line be routed through their impoverished home province. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
Afghans help an injured man after an explosion struck a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 23, 2016. Witnesses in Kabul say that an explosion struck the protest march by members of Afghanistan's largely Shiite Hazara ethnic minority group, demanding that a major regional electric power line be routed through their impoverished home province. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

The ministry's deputy spokesman, Najib Danish, said the blast was the biggest in Afghanistan since 2001, when the Taliban launched their brutal insurgency after they were toppled by the 2001 US invasion.

According to the presidential spokesman, Chakhansuri, the organisers of the march had been warned of the possibility of an attack.

"We had intelligence over recent days and it was shared with the demonstration organisers, we shared our concerns because we knew that terrorists wanted to bring sectarianism to our community," he said.

Senior Hazara leaders were notably absent despite having attended a similar protest in May.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued by its news agency, Aamaq.

IS has had a presence on Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan, mainly in Nangarhar province, for the past year, but this is the first time the extremist group has struck the Afghan capital.

The bombing raises concerns over IS's growing capabilities in Afghanistan.

Officials believe the fighters are made up of disaffected Taliban insurgents and members of Pakistani militant groups, and that they receive some funding and arms from IS in Syria and Iraq.

In Nangarhar they have fought Taliban fighters as well as Afghan security forces, sometimes seizing control of whole districts in the east of the province.

Thousands of demonstrators march towards the centre of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 23, 2016 prior to the bomb attack. Afghan authorities closed off streets across the capital Kabul as they prepared for a demonstration by ethnic Hazaras demanding a planned power line be rerouted through their poverty-stricken province. Persian writing on right hand reads,
Thousands of demonstrators march towards the centre of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 23, 2016 prior to the bomb attack. Afghan authorities closed off streets across the capital Kabul as they prepared for a demonstration by ethnic Hazaras demanding a planned power line be rerouted through their poverty-stricken province. Persian writing on right hand reads, "justice." (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

A surge in the number of attacks worldwide linked to Islamic State has been seen as an attempt to distract from a string of battlefield losses suffered by the extremists in Syria and Iraq, where the borders of their self-styled caliphate are shrinking.

President Ashraf Ghani has announced a forthcoming military offensive in Nangarhar, expected to start within days, aimed at eliminating IS from the country.

He declared Sunday a day of national mourning and ordered a commission be set up to investigate the incident and described the attack as a clear effort to divide Shiites and Sunnis.

Thousands of demonstrators took part in the march towards Kabul
Thousands of demonstrators took part in the march towards Kabul

The Ministry of Interior issued a ban on "any kind of public gathering and demonstration" for the next 10 days. The move could be aimed at controlling any outbreaks of sectarian animosity.

AP

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