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Explosions rock Afghanistan political gathering attended by top officials

At least two blasts struck a large ceremony attended by Afghanistan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and other leading government officials, killing one person and injuring 17 others.

The Kabul attack represents a major security breach and marks a resumption of violence in the capital after weeks of calm amid ongoing peace talks between the U.S. and Taliban in Doha.

“Stay calm, the area of the blast is far from us,” said former lower house speaker Mohammad Younus Qanooni during a live broadcast of the event on Thursday, March 7.

But moments after the announcement, another explosion and gunfire could be heard that sent people running.

A second unidentified voice then addressed the screaming crowd, saying: “I request my countrymen to stay calm. The mortar attack is far from the gathering.”

The blasts happened during a ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the death of Shiite Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari that was attended by many of the country’s political elite, including Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai.

“Terrorists were firing Mortars at Abdul Ali Mazari remembrance ceremony, from inside a compound,” deputy interior minister Khoshal Sadat said in English on Twitter, adding that police had arrested one person linked to the attack.

Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani,  who was at the scene, later added that “terrorists launched rocket attacks on commemoration ceremony,” and said he had escaped safely.

It remained unclear whether rockets or mortar fire were being used, with officials using both terms.

Islamic State later claimed the barrage saying its fighters targeted the ceremony with mortar fire, according to a statement published by the group’s propaganda agency Amaq.

“Today around 12 noon … mortars were fired on the gathering of Abdul Ali Mazari,” Nasrat Rahimi, acting interior ministry spokesperson, said in a statement sent to journalists.

“The main suspect behind the attack has been arrested by the police and some others who were behind the attack were identified … and will be detained,” he added, saying the mortars landed outside the actual event.

“In today’s explosions in Kabul city, 22 wounded and 3 martyrs (bodies) were evacuated by Kabul Ambulance to our hospitals,” tweeted Wahidullah Mayar, spokesperson for the health ministry.

‘Unforgivable attack’

“This was the most horrid and unforgivable attack on civilians by a merciless enemy,” tweeted presidential candidate and former national security adviser Mohammad Haneef Atmar.

He added that eight of his security guards were injured in the attack.

The incident comes as U.S. and Taliban negotiations continue to hold peace talks in Qatar aimed at ending the nearly 18-year conflict.

The last major attack in Kabul occurred in January when the Taliban claimed responsibility for a car bomb that struck the heavily fortified Green Village foreign compound.

Heavy snowfall across large swathes of Afghanistan has led to a reduction in violence this winter, but warmer weather in the country’s south will likely spark an increase in bloodshed with the arrival of the spring fighting season.

Analysts have warned that the Taliban are likely to ramp up attacks in the coming months as they seek to maintain momentum on the battlefield and leverage at the negotiating table.

On Wednesday at least 16 people were killed in a suicide attack on a construction company in eastern Afghanistan’s Jalalabad city.

The hours-long attack began early Wednesday when two suicide bombers detonated explosives at the gate of the compound, allowing three others to enter the area where they went on a killing spree.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

With reporting from AFP

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