At least 18 killed in Afghan Eid suicide blast

KABUL • A suicide attack in restive eastern Afghanistan killed at least 18 people in a crowd celebrating the Hari Raya or Eid holiday on Sunday, the second assault in as many days to mar an unprecedented ceasefire.

Further dampening hopes for peace after jubilant scenes during the ceasefire over the Muslim holiday, the Taleban announced that they would not be extending the truce beyond Sunday night.

That has raised concerns among some Afghans over the number of Taleban militants who have taken advantage of the ceasefire to enter cities around the country, including the capital Kabul, and may still be there when the truce ends.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, which was not part of the truce, issued a claim that it had carried out its second suicide attack in two days in the province of Nangarhar.

Provincial health director Najibullah Kamawal put the death toll from the latest blast in Jalalabad city, outside the office of the Nangarhar provincial governor, at 18 with 49 wounded.

"Some of the wounded are in a serious condition," Mr Kamawal added, suggesting that the death toll could rise. The governor's spokesman, Mr Attaullah Khogyani, put the death toll slightly higher, at 19.

He said a bomber on foot blew himself up among a crowd of Taleban fighters, local elders and civilians leaving the governor's compound after attending a special event for Eid. Last Saturday, a suicide assault on a gathering of Taleban, security forces and civilians in the province killed at least 36 people and wounded 65, Mr Kamawal said. The ISIS group's Afghanistan franchise claimed responsibility for that attack.

Meanwhile, dozens of peace protesters arrived in Kabul yesterday after walking hundreds of kilometres across the war-battered country.

The marchers, all men, including war victims on crutches and one in a wheelchair, were welcomed along the way by village women carrying the Quran, men singing and dancing and offering bread and yogurt, some in tears.

"We met people in areas controlled by the Taleban and in areas under government control - everyone is really tired of war," said Mr Iqbal Khayber, 27, a medical student from Helmand. The march was triggered by a car bomb in Helmand on March 23 that killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens.

Meanwhile, Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced the decision to resume fighting after President Ashraf Ghani said a government truce with the militants would be extended. He had asked the group to reciprocate.

"The ceasefire ends tonight and our operations will begin. We have no intention to extend the ceasefire," Mr Mujahid said in a WhatsApp message.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2018, with the headline 'At least 18 killed in Afghan Eid suicide blast'. Print Edition | Subscribe