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Suicide bombers stormed Shia cultural center in Kabul

29 December, 2017

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KABUL: Suicide bombers stormed a Shia cultural center and news agency in the Afghan capital on Thursday, killing more than 40 people and wounding scores, many of them students attending a conference.

Islamic State said in an online statement that it was responsible for the attack, the latest in a series the movement has claimed on Shia targets in Kabul.

Waheed Majrooh, a spokesman for the ministry of public health, said 41 people, including four women and two children, had been killed and 84 wounded, 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 floor of the center, at the basement level, was covered in blood as wailing survivors and relatives picked through the debris, while windows of the news agency, on the second floor, were all shattered.

Deputy Health Minister Feda Paikan said 35 bodies had been brought into the nearby Istiqlal hospital. Television pictures showed many of the injured suffered 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 Islamic State.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement on Twitter denying involvement in the attack, which was condemned by both the Kabul government and Afghanistan’s international partners including NATO and the United Nations.

“I have little doubt that this attack deliberately targeted civilians,” said Toby Lanzer, acting head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

“Today in Kabul we have witnessed another truly despicable crime in a year already marked by unspeakable atrocities.”

Over the past two years, Islamic State in Khorasan, as the local group is known, has claimed a growing number of attacks on Shia targets in Afghanistan, where sectarian attacks were previously rare. The movement, which first appeared in eastern Afghanistan in 2015, has extended its reach steadily, although many security officials question its ability to conduct complex attacks and believe it has help from criminals or other militant groups.

Prior to Thursday’s attack, there had been at least 12 attacks on Shia targets since the start of 2016, 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. Backed by the heaviest US air strikes since the height of the international combat mission in Afghanistan, Afghan forces have forced the Taliban back in many areas and prevented any major urban center from falling into the hands of insurgents.

But high-profile attacks in the big cities have continued as militants have looked for other ways to make an impact and undermine confidence in security.

Pakistan strongly condemned the terrorist attack. “We express our heartfelt condolences with the families and friends of those who have lost their loved ones in these brutal terrorist attacks and pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded. We express our solidarity with the government and the people of Afghanistan,” the statement from Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.

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