An explosion ripped through a wedding hall on a busy Saturday night in Afghanistan’s capital, leaving dozens of people dead or wounded, a government official has said. Hundreds of people were believed to be inside.
Interior ministry spokesman Nusrat Rahimi told the Associated Press there was no immediate information on the cause of the blast. Both the Taliban and a local affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group have carried out attacks in the capital.
The blast at the Dubai City wedding hall in western Kabul, a part of the city that many in the minority Shia Hazara community call home, shattered a period of relative calm in the city.
On 7 August, a Taliban car bomb aimed at Afghan security forces detonated on the same road in a busy west Kabul neighbourhood, killing 14 people and wounding 145 – most of them women, children and other civilians.
Kabul’s huge, brightly lit wedding halls are centres of community life in a city weary of decades of war, with thousands of dollars spent on a single evening.
“Devastated by the news of a suicide attack inside a wedding hall in Kabul. A heinous crime against our people; how is it possible to train a human and ask him to go and blow himself (up) inside a wedding?!!” Sediq Seddiqi, spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, said on Twitter.
Wedding halls also serve as meeting places, and in November at least 55 people were killed when a suicide bomber set off explosives at a Kabul wedding hall where hundreds of Muslim religious scholars and clerics had gathered to mark the birthday of the prophet Muhammad.
The latest attack came a few days after the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, as Kabul residents were visiting family and friends, and just before Afghanistan marks its 100th independence day on Monday.
The blast comes at an uncertain time in Afghanistan as the United States and the Taliban near a deal to end a nearly 18-year war.
The Afghan government has been sidelined from those discussions, and presidential spokesman Seddiqi said earlier on Saturday that his government was waiting to hear the outcome of President Donald Trump’s meeting on Friday with his national security team about the negotiations. Top issues include the withdrawl of US troops and Taliban guarantees not to let Afghanistan become a launching pad for global terror attacks.
While the Taliban earlier this year pledged to do more to protect civilians, it continues to stage deadly attacks against Afghan security forces and others in what is seen by many as an attempt to strengthen its position at the negotiating table.
Last year more than 3,800 civilians, including more than 900 children, were killed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, US and allied forces, the Isis affiliate and other actors, the United Nations said.