Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. (Photo Credit: File)
Two blasts and firing were heard as Afghanistan's two rival leaders held parallel presidential inaugurations in Kabul on Monday, underscoring the country's woeful security ahead of talks with a resurgent Taliban. Hundreds of people had assembled at two venues inside the presidential palace complex to watch the swearing-in ceremonies for President Ashraf Ghani and challenger Abdullah Abdullah, when the blasts were heard, prompting some to flee.
“I have no bulletproof vest on, only my shirt, I will stay even if I have to sacrifice my head,” Ghani told the remaining crowd, as sirens sounded overhead.
The left at least 18 people wounded, an official said, in what appeared to be the first violence to hit the capital since the US signed a withdrawal deal with the Taliban.
The Taliban immediately denied responsibility for the assault, which occurred at the commemoration ceremony for Abdul Ali Mazari -- a politician from the Hazara ethnic group, most of whom are Shiite.
An Islamic State group-claimed attack on the same ceremony last year saw a barrage of mortar fire kill at least 11 people. Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said gunfire had erupted from a construction site near the ceremony in the city's west, which is largely Shiite. At least 18 people had been wounded so far, 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.
(With agency inputs)