At least 81 people were killed and another 207 wounded in the Afghan capital today, when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-packed clothing among a large crowd of demonstrators, officials and witnesses said.
In a statement issued by its news agency, Aamaq, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on a protest march by Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazaras. The marchers were demanding that a major regional electric power line be routed through their impoverished home province. Most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims but most Afghans are Sunni.
Waheed Majroeh, the head of international relations for the Ministry of Public Health, confirmed the death toll and said it was likely to rise “as the condition of many of the injured is very serious.”
The government had received intelligence that an attack could take place, and had warned the march organisers, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told The Associated Press.
“We had intelligence over recent days and it was shared with the demonstration organizers, we shared our concerns because we knew that terrorists wanted to bring sectarianism to our community,” presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said.
Two suicide bombers had attempted to target the demonstrators, who were gathering in Demazang Square as their four-hour protest march wound down and they were setting up a camp, Haroon Chakhansuri said. “One of them was shot by the police,” he told AP. He said that three district police chiefs on duty at the square were injured and another three security personnel were killed.
He said Ghani planned to meet with the organizers later on Saturday, and would make a live television appearance after that.
One of the march organisers, Laila Mohammadi, said she arrived at the scene soon after the blast and saw “many dead and wounded people.”
Footage on Afghan television and photographs posted on social media showed a scene of horror and carnage, with numerous bodies and body parts spread across the square. Other witnesses said that after the blast, security personnel shot their weapons in the air to disperse the crowd. Secondary attacks have been known to target people who come to the aid of those wounded in a first explosion.
Ghani released a statement condemning the blast. “Peaceful demonstrations are the right of every citizen of Afghanistan and the government will do everything it can to provide them with security,” Ghani said, blaming the blasts on what he called “terrorists.”