Blasts in Kabul hit near ceremony attended by top officials

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KABUL:- At least two blasts rattled a large ceremony in western Kabul on Thursday, with the event abruptly cancelled and sending attendees fleeing — including chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and other leading government officials.

“Stay calm, the area of the blast is far from us,” said former lower house speaker Mohammad Younus Qanooni during a live broadcast of the event.

But moments after the announcement, another explosion could be heard that sent people running for the exit.

A second unidenitifed voice then addressed the screaming crowd, saying: “I request my countrymen to stay calm. The mortar attack is far from the gathering.”

The blasts happened during a ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the death of Shiite Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari that was attended by many of the country’s political elite, including Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai.

Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani — who was at the scene — later tweeted “terrorists launched rocket attacks on commemoration ceremony”, and said he had escaped safely.

There was conflicting information as to the casualty figures in the immediate aftermath of the blasts.

A short while later, Health Ministry official Mohaibullah Zaeer said an initial check of Kabul’s hospitals revealed three people have been killed and 32 wounded in the attack but he said the figures were not final.

Earlier, another official, who was at the ceremony, said seven people were killed and at least 10 were wounded. He spoke on condition of anonymity to talk to reporters. The different accounts on the casualties could not immediately be reconciled.

There was also no claim of responsibility for the explosions. Nusrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the blasts were due to mortar shells being fired and that one person has been arrested. Rahimi declined to answer questions on casualties.

Dr Mohammad Faisal, the spokesperson Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Pakistan condemns the “reported rocket attack near a political gathering in Afghanistan that has led to injuries to many people”.

Pakistan condemns reported rocket attack near a political gathering in Afghanistan that has led to injuries to many people. Further details are coming in. Pakistan stands with the people of Afghanistan in their resolve to defeat extremism and terrorism.

“Pakistan stands with the people of Afghanistan in their resolve to defeat extremism and terrorism,” he said.

The incident comes as US and Taliban negotiations continue to hold peace talks in Qatar aimed at ending the nearly 18-year conflict.

The last major attack in Kabul occurred in January when the Taliban-claimed responsibility for a car bomb that struck the heavily fortified Green Village foreign compound.

Heavy snowfall across large swathes of Afghanistan has led to a reduction in violence this winter, but warmer weather in the country’s south could spark an increase in bloodshed with the arrival of the spring fighting season.

Analysts have warned that the Taliban are likely to ramp up attacks in the coming months as they seek to maintain momentum on the battlefield and leverage at the negotiating table.

On Wednesday, at least 16 people were killed in a suicide attack on a construction company in eastern Afghanistan’s Jalalabad city. The hours-long attack began early Wednesday when two suicide bombers detonated explosives at the gate of the compound, allowing three others to enter the area where they went on a killing spree. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but both the Islamic State group and the Taliban are activenear the city, in Nangarhar province.

Afghanistan has been enmeshed in nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.


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