Group behind Kabul attack a mystery

An investigator yesterday at the site of the attack. It is unclear whether the attack was to undermine the government or is part of a strategy to pressure the government and its Western allies as they pursue talks with the Taleban.
An investigator yesterday at the site of the attack. It is unclear whether the attack was to undermine the government or is part of a strategy to pressure the government and its Western allies as they pursue talks with the Taleban.PHOTO: REUTERS

At least 55 killed at clerics' gathering as security officials seek motive for bombing

KABUL • The Afghan authorities were struggling yesterday to identify the group behind a suicide bomb attack that killed at least 55 people at a gathering of religious scholars in Kabul after the Taleban denied any responsibility.

The victims included religious delegates from various parts of the country, invited by the Afghan Ulema Council to celebrate the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammad on Tuesday.

Without knowing who was behind the attack, it was unclear whether the aim was to undermine President Ashraf Ghani's government, or whether it was part of a strategy to keep the pressure on his government and its Western allies while they pursued talks with the Taleban, to end the 17-year long war.

"As of now, we don't know which militant outfit could be behind the attack. Investigations are at a preliminary stage," said a senior security official who was at the blast site yesterday to collect forensic evidence.

The council, the country's largest religious organisation, gathered scholars from the Sunni sect, but it was uncertain whether the attack could have had a sectarian dimension.

Though Sunni themselves, Taleban and fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group have targeted religious scholars aligned with the Afghan government in the past.

This time, the Taleban quickly denied responsibility and condemned the attack on religious preachers and scholars, but investigators in Kabul said the hard-line Islamist group's involvement cannot be ruled out.

CULPRITS UNKNOWN

As of now we don't know which militant outfit could be behind the attack. Investigations are at a preliminary stage.

A SENIOR SECURITY OFFICIAL, who was at the blast site.

The toll from Tuesday's attack could rise as most of the 80 wounded had severe injuries, hospital and government officials said.

Yesterday, two rockets hit Ghazni city, where the top US general leading the Nato-led force in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, was meeting the provincial governor and senior officials at the governor's compound, said Mr Ahmad Khan Serat, a spokesman for Ghazni police.

"Gen Miller was not hurt in the rocket attack," Mr Serat said, adding that two rockets fell on a money exchange market, about 200m from the governor's compound in the central strategic province.

Ms Debra Richardson, a spokesman for the Nato-led Resolute Support mission, said Gen Miller was in Ghazni province for a meeting with Afghan military leadership to discuss security.

"While he was there, the Taleban indiscriminately launched indirect fire but we do not believe General Miller was the target," Ms Richardson said in a statement.

No militant group has claimed responsibility for the rocket attack in Ghazni.

Last week, Taleban leaders met US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad at their political headquarters in Qatar in an effort to pave the way for peace talks. The three-day meeting was the second in the past month.

Mr Khalilzad has declared a deadline of April 20, the day of Afghanistan's presidential election, to end the war, but the country's security situation has worsened since Nato formally ended combat operations in 2014.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2018, with the headline 'Group behind Kabul attack a mystery'. Print Edition | Subscribe