An attack on a political rally in Kabul Friday left dozens of people dead wounded, an official said, in what appeared to be the first violence to hit the Afghan capital since the United States signed a withdrawal deal with the Taliban.
The Taliban immediately denied responsibility for the assault, which occurred in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood at the commemoration ceremony for Abdul Ali Mazari, a politician from the Hazara ethnic group, most of whom are Shiite.
An Islamic State-claimed attack on the same ceremony last year saw a barrage of mortar fire kill at least 11 people. The group later claimed the attack, its first in the capital in months.
Interior ministry spokesperson Nasrat Rahimi said gunfire had erupted from a construction site near the ceremony in the city’s west, which is largely Shiite.
At least 27 people were killed and 29 others were wounded, he added.
“Soon after the attack, police forces and police special forces units rushed to the scene,” Rahimi told a local news station, noting that sporadic gunfire was ongoing.
Photos on social media showed at least two bodies, but there was no official word on a death toll.
“We left the ceremony following the gunfire, and a number of people were wounded, but I do not have any reports of martyred people for now,” Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq told Tolo News.
TOLOnews reporter Khalid Nekzad says sporadic firing is still heard at the scene of the attack in the west of Kabul. He says foreign forces have also arrived in the area. pic.twitter.com/uP8V4q0pxU
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) March 6, 2020
The ceremony was attended by many of the country’s political elite, including Afghanistan’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.
The interior ministry later confirmed to reporters that “all the high-ranking officials were safely evacuated from the scene.”
The incident comes less than a week after the U.S. and Taliban signed a deal that would pave the way for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops in 14 months.
However, fighting has continued to rage across the country, casting a pall over hopes that the agreement would lead to a reduction in violence.
Islamic State’s Khorasan Province affiliate first became active in Afghanistan in 2015 and for years held territory in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
It has claimed responsibility for a string of horrific bombings, including several in Kabul targeting the city’s Shiite community.
In recent months the group has been hit by mounting setbacks after being hunted for years by U.S. and Afghan forces along with multiple Taliban offensives targeting their fighters.
Still, ISKP remains in Afghanistan, notably in eastern Kunar province near the Pakistan border, which also neighbors Nangarhar, as well as in Kabul.
With reporting from AFP