A peaceful protest that drew thousands of people to the Afghan capital has become the target of at least two explosions, leaving at least 80 people dead and more than 231 wounded.
The blasts came as thousands of people — mostly from the Hazara minority — gathered to demand a 500 kV power line, linking power from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, be routed through the central province of Bamiyan.
A security source told TRT World there were three bombers on foot; only one was able to fully detonate their explosive vest. One bomber failed to detonate his explosives entirely, he said. "One was dressed in female clothing."
However, Timor Sharan, one of the protesters, posted otherwise on his Facebook only minutes after the attack. “There was a twin explosion in an ice cream cart. A lot of casualties.”
Media reports say a group claiming to be affiliated with DAESH, the Iraq and Syria-based group, has claimed responsibility for the Saturday afternoon attack.
A report published on the website of Amaq, a DAESH-affilated website, said: "Two fighters from Islamic State detonated explosive belts at a gathering of Shi'ites" in Kabul.
Another claim of responsibility corroborated the security source's report of three suicide bombers that came from a man by the name of Abu Ali, who identified himself as a leader of a DAESH force in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
Though government statements condemning the attack named the Taliban as the perpetrators, the group has denied responsibility for the bombings.
In a statement, Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, blamed the violence on "enemy circles" and denied the group "had any involvement or hand in this tragic attack."
Earlier, health ministry officials, speaking to TRT World, said ambulances were dispatched to transport the casualties — 61 dead and 207 wounded — to nearby hospitals. Witnesses, however, say the toll could be much higher than reported.
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— Ahmad Shuja (@AhmadShuja) July 23, 2016
The Italian-run Emergency Hospital, which specialises in the treatment of the war wounded, has so far received 45 patients, which has pushed facility’s operating rooms to work “at full capacity.”
Access to victims
At the time of the blast, the Afghan capital was cordoned off by the presence of multi-coloured shipping containers — in stacks of two or three — positioned throughout the city.
As with a May protest against the planned routing of the power line, Kabul was once again blockaded by the containers, meant to keep protesters from reaching the presidential palace.
A similar protest, last November, which also saw thousands of people in attendance, led to a breach of administrative buildings near the palace grounds. Workers inside the offices said protestors had broken windows when inside the premises.
Though they would not comment on the effect of the presence of containers on the ability of emergency services to reach the victims, the health ministry did say that area was cordoned off by containers at the time of the bombing.
Let's hold fast 2 each other. Care for each other.Donating blood & checking in with d families of victims will help, anger and blaming won't
— Shaharzad Akbar (@ShaharzadAkbar) July 23, 2016
The blasts have been roundly condemned.
A presidential palace statement said President Ashraf Ghani is “deeply grieved” by the attack.
Saying all people have the right to peaceful assembly, Ghani said: “The government put all efforts to provide security for the protestors, but terrorists entered the protest.”
Security officials said they had tried to warn the demonstration's organisers of a potential threat, but that they decided to carry on with the protest as planned.
Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive of the Afghan government, also condemned the attack, saying: “Our nation stands in solidarity and prays for all of those affected by this heinous and unjustifiable act of terror … We need to step up and stand united against this and other such horrible atrocities. We must combat our enemies,” Abdullah tweeted.
Terrorists must know that such attacks won't stop Afghans from standing together and making Afghanistan a better place.-AA 6/6 #KabulProtest
— Dr. Abdullah (@afgexecutive) July 23, 2016
"Our condolences go out to those who are affected by today's attack," said General John W Nicholson, commander of the Resolute Support as the International Security Assistance Force is now known. "We strongly condemn the actions of Afghanistan's enemies of peace."
Amnesty International said the bombing shows the “utter disregard” the armed opposition has for human life.
“Such attacks are a reminder that the conflict in Afghanistan is not winding down, as some believe, but escalating, with consequences for the human rights situation in the country that should alarm us all,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director.
Dozens of Afghans have been lining up outside four hospitals in Kabul in an effort to provide blood to the victims.
Author: Ali M Latifi