IS claims responsibility for suicide attack in Afghanistan
The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for a deadly suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday that killed 33 people and injured more than 100, the first major attack by the group in the country.
The bomber detonated his explosives outside a bank in Jalalabad where government workers collect salaries, city police chief Fazel Ahmad Sherzad told a news conference. Police said there were two more explosions in the city but they did not cause any casualties.
A statement issued by IS Wilayat Khurasan identified the bomber as Abu Mohammad and said he belonged to the group. The bomber targeted government workers collecting their pay at the bank, the statement added.
An online posting allegedly by IS made the same claim but it could not be immediately verified. Afghan media reported that former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid had claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of the IS.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani too blamed the IS. "Who claimed responsibility for the deadly attack in Nangarhar today? The Taliban did not claim responsibility for the attack, Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack," he said on television during a visit to Badakhshan province.
Daesh is the Arabic pronunciation of the initials for ISIS, as the Islamic State is also known.
The attack marked the first time the group has struck so far from its home ground in Iraq and Syria. It was also the first major terror attack claimed by IS in Afghanistan.
The IS announced the formation of its wing for Khurasan, the historic name for the area encompassing Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of India, in January.
The Afghan Taliban distanced itself from the attack, with spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid posting on Twitter that the group’s militants were not involved. “We condemn/deny involvement,” he wrote in a tweet.
Dr Najeebullah Kamawal, head of the provincial hospital in Jalalabad, said the facility received 33 bodies and more than 100 injured after the attack outside the branch of Kabul Bank. The UN gave a higher toll, saying 35 people had been killed.
The bomber struck during rush hour on the first day of the week, when the bank was crowded with government workers, including policemen and soldiers.
There were two more explosions in Jalalabad but they did not kill anyone, officials said.
The same branch of Kabul Bank was targeted by a group of suicide bombers in 2001, killing 38 people.
President Ghani condemned the attack, which saw children among those killed, his office said in a statement. "Carrying out terrorist attacks in cities and public places are the most cowardly acts of terror by terrorists targeting innocent civilians," Ghani said.
The scene of the attack showed the gruesome scale of the carnage, with people lying in pools of blood and body parts scattered all over. The bombing comes as Afghanistan braces for what is expected to be a bloody push by the Taliban at the start of the fighting season.
The militants have stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets since Washington backpedalled on plans to shrink the US force in Afghanistan this year by nearly half.
The Taliban have seen defections to IS in recent months, with some insurgents voicing their disaffection with their one-eyed supreme leader Mullah Omar, who has not been seen since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
The Afghan government too has raised the ominous prospect of IS making inroads into the country.
(With inputs from agencies)