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Dozens Killed in IS Attack in Kabul

The assaults underscore growing concerns about security in the lead-up to legislative elections scheduled for October 20, which are seen as a test run for next year’s presidential poll
Afghan residents inspect the site of a suicide bombing outside a voter registration center in Kabul on April 22.Afghan residents inspect the site of a suicide bombing outside a voter registration center in Kabul on April 22.
Since the Persian New Year in March a tense calm had permeated the Afghan capital as people brace for the Taliban’s launch of its customary spring offensive

A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a voter registration center in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday, killing at least 31 people and wounding more than 50, most of them waiting in line to receive identity cards, officials said.

The self-styled Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the attack on a project of key importance to the credibility of President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which has pledged to hold parliamentary elections this year, Reuters reported.

The assaults underscore growing concerns about security in the lead-up to legislative elections scheduled for October 20, which are seen as a test run for next year’s presidential poll.

“It happened at the entrance gate of the center. It was a suicide attack,” Dawood Amin, city police chief, told AFP.

The last major attack in Kabul was on March 21 when an IS suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd celebrating the Persian New Year holiday, killing at least 33 people.

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said a bomber on foot approached the center where officials had been issuing identity cards as part of the registration process for voters for the October elections.

A spokesman for the ministry of public health said at least 31 people were confirmed dead and 54 wounded. The explosion destroyed cars and shattered windows in nearby buildings, leaving rubble strewn across the street.

It was the most serious attack in Kabul since about 100 people were killed in January by a bomb concealed in an ambulance.

  Voter Security

Footage on Ariana TV showed pools of blood and shattered glass on the street.

A wounded man in a hospital bed wept as he told Ariana TV: “I don’t know where my daughters are. God damn the attackers!”

Photos posted on social media purportedly of the scene showed several bodies on the ground and a badly damaged two-storey building.

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 Shia Hazara minority, which has been repeatedly hit by attacks claimed by IS.

“There were women, children. Everyone had come to get their identity cards,” said Bashir Ahmad who had been nearby the blast, which occurred despite heightened security measures following the January attack.

Voter registration centers have been set up across Afghanistan ahead of long-delayed parliamentary and district council elections due to be held in October and there have been serious concerns that militants might attack them.

President Ghani has been under heavy pressure from his international partners to ensure the elections are held this year, ahead of a presidential election due in 2019 although there has been widespread skepticism that they will take place.

“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.

Voter registration began this month but there have already been a number of attacks apparently aimed at disrupting the preparations.

Also on Sunday, a roadside bomb near a voter registration center in the northern city of Pul-i Khumri killed six members of a family and wounded three as they drove past the site although there was no indication the attacks were linked.

Unless the process of registering millions of voters, many of whom do not have national identity cards, can be completed before winter sets, the vote would almost certainly have to be postponed until next year.

  Tense Calm

Since the Persian New Year in March a tense calm had permeated the Afghan capital as people brace for the Taliban’s launch of its customary spring offensive.

The Taliban are under pressure to take up President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer made in February, but so far the group has given only a muted response.

Some western and Afghan officials expect 2018 to be a particularly bloody year. General John Nicholson, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, told Tolo TV last month that he expected the Taliban to carry out more suicide attacks this fighting season.

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.

 

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