KABUL (REUTERS) - Suicide bombers stormed a Shi'ite cultural centre and news agency in the Afghan capital yesterday, killing more than 40 people and wounding scores, many of them students at a conference.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) said in an online statement that it was responsible for the attack, the latest in a series the terrorist group has claimed on Shi'ite targets in Kabul.
Ministry of Public Health spokesman Waheed Majrooh said 41 people, including four women and two children, had been killed. Eighty-four were wounded, with most suffering from burns.
The attack occurred during a morning panel discussion on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Sunni-majority Afghanistan at the Tabian Social and Cultural Centre, witnesses said.
The floors of the centre at the basement level were covered in blood as wailing survivors and relatives picked through the debris, while the windows of the news agency, on the second floor, were all shattered.
"We were shocked and didn't feel the explosion at first, but we saw smoke coming up from below," said Mr Ali Reza Ahmadi, a journalist at the agency who was sitting in his office above the centre when the attack took place.
Deputy Health Minister Feda Mohammad Paikan said 35 bodies had been brought to the nearby Istiqlal hospital. Pictures on television showed many of the injured suffering serious burns. The bloodshed followed an attack on a private television station in Kabul last month, which was also claimed by the local affiliate of ISIS.
Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement on Twitter denying involvement in the attack, which a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani's office called an "unpardonable" crime against humanity.
Prior to yesterday's attack, there had been at least 12 attacks on Shi'ite targets since the start of last year, in which almost 700 people were killed or wounded, according to United Nations figures. Before that, there had only been one major attack, in 2011.
The attacks have increased pressure on Mr Ghani's Western-backed government to improve security. The US Embassy in Kabul also issued a statement condemning the attack and pledging continued US support.