ISIS claims Afghan wedding suicide blast that killed 63

An Afghan man inspects a damaged wedding hall after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug 18, 2019.
An Afghan man inspects a damaged wedding hall after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug 18, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS
A damaged stage of a wedding hall is seen after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug 18, 2019.
A damaged stage of a wedding hall is seen after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug 18, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

KABUL (REUTERS) - ISIS claimed responsibility on Sunday (Aug 18) for a suicide blast at a wedding reception in Afghanistan that killed 63 people, underling the dangers the country faces even if the Taleban agree a pact with the United States.

The Saturday night attack came as the Taleban and the United States try to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a Taleban commitment on security and peace talks with Afghanistan’s US-backed government.

Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighters, who first appeared in Afghanistan in 2014 and have since made inroads in the east and north, are not involved in the talks. They are battling government and US-led international forces and the Taleban.

The group, in a statement on the messaging website Telegram, claimed responsibility for the attack at a west Kabul wedding hall, in a minority Shi’ite neighbourhood, saying its bomber had been able to infiltrate the reception and detonate his explosives in the crowd of “infidels”.

ISIS has claimed some of the most bloody attacks in Afghan cities over the past couple of years, with some aimed at the Shi’ite minority.

The Taleban had earlier denied responsibility for the Kabul attack and condemned it.

More than 180 people were wounded with many women and children among the casualties, interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said on Sunday, as families thronged to Kabul’s crowded cemeteries.

“We want peace, not such brutal suicide attacks,” said Ahmad Khan, who was burying a relative.

Pictures on social media from the scene of the Kabul blast showed bodies strewn amid overturned table and chairs at the wedding hall, with dark blood stains on the carpet. 

Both the bride and groom survived.  “I won’t ever be able to forget this however much I try,” the groom, identified as Mirwais, told the TOLOnews channel.  He said his cousin and some friends had been killed. “I can’t go to the funerals, I feel very weak ... I know that this won’t be the last suffering for Afghans, the suffering will continue.” 

The bride’s father told TOLOnews 14 members of his family were killed.  Wedding halls have become a big business in 
Kabul as the Afghan economy slowly picks up and families spend more on celebrations.

Big, brightly lit halls now line some suburban streets of the city, and bombers have targeted them before.  At least 40 people were killed in a wedding-hall blast in Kabul in November.

BLOODSHED AND TALKS

There has been no let-up in fighting and bomb attacks in Afghanistan over recent months despite the talks between the United States and the Taleban since late last year.  In the northern province of Balkh, 11 civilians were killed on Sunday when a roadside bomb blew up their van, police said. 

President Ashraf Ghani, in comments on the Kabul blast before the ISIS claim, said the Taleban could not “absolve themselves of blame for they provide a platform for terrorists”.

Celebrations for Monday’s 100th anniversary of Afghanistan’s independence from Britain were curtailed out of respect for the blast victims, the president’s office said. 

The Taleban have been fighting to expel foreign forces and re-establish an Islamic state since they were ousted in October 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

But US negotiators and the Taleban have reported progress after eight rounds of talks since late last year.

Some Afghans were sceptical about the effort, amid the carnage.  “Peace with whom? With those who bomb our weddings, schools, universities, offices and houses?” wrote Twitter user Rada Akba.

“Selling out this land and its people to those killers is sick and inhuman. History won’t forget this.” 

Taleban officials said on Saturday the killing of the brother of their leader in a bomb attack in Pakistan would not derail the talks with the United States aimed at securing their long-cherished goal of getting foreign troops out.

US President Donald Trump has made no secret of his desire for a US pullout from Afghanistan and an end to America’s longest war. Top US national security advisers briefed Trump on Friday on the negotiations.

The Afghan government has not been involved in the talks because the militants refuse to deal with an administration they see as a US puppet. 

There are concerns among Afghan officials and US national security aides about the talks with fears Afghanistan could plunge into a new civil war that could see a return of Taleban rule and international militants finding a sanctuary. 

Under the expected deal, the Taleban, in exchange for a US  commitment on a withdrawal, would guarantee Afghanistan would not be a sanctuary for militants to plot new attacks, both sides have said.

The Taleban are also expected to promise to open power-sharing talks with the government and agree to a ceasefire.  Some 14,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, training and advising Afghan security forces and conducting counterinsurgency operations.