The death toll from a suicide bombing at a wedding in Afghanistan’s capital is at least 63, officials said Sunday, as Kabul reeled from its deadliest attack this year.
Another 182 civilians were wounded in the Saturday night explosion, government spokesperson Feroz Bashari said. Interior Ministry spokesman Nusrat Rahimi confirmed the toll.
The Taliban condemned the attack as “forbidden and unjustifiable” and denied any involvement in the blast that carried the hallmarks of an assault by the local affiliate of ISIS.
The blast occurred in a western Kabul neighbourhood that many in the minority Shia Muslim Hazara community call home, and the ISIS affiliate has claimed responsibility for some attacks against the community in the past.
Rahimi said the attacker set off explosives among the wedding participants.
The blast occurred near the stage where musicians were and “all the youths, children and all the people who were there were killed,” witness Gul Mohammad said. One of the wounded, Mohammad Toofan, said that “a lot of guests were martyred.”
“There are so many dead and wounded,” said Ahmad Omid, a survivor, adding that about 1,200 guests had been invited to the wedding for his father’s cousin. “I was with the groom in the other room when we heard the blast and then I couldn’t find anyone. Everyone was lying all around the hall.”
Amid the carnage at the site were blood-covered chairs and a pile of abandoned shoes.
The blast at the Dubai City wedding hall in western Kabul shattered a period of relative calm. On Aug. 7, a Taliban car bomb aimed at Afghan security forces detonated on the same road, killing 14 people and wounding 145.
Kabul’s huge, brightly lit wedding halls are centres of community life in a city weary of decades of war, with thousands of dollars spent on a single evening.
“Devastated by the news of a suicide attack inside a wedding hall in Kabul. A heinous crime against our people; how is it possible to train a human and ask him to go and blow himself [up] inside a wedding?!!” Sediq Seddiqi, spokesperson for President Ashraf Ghani, said in a Twitter post.
Messages of shock poured in on Sunday. “Such acts are beyond condemnation,” the European Union mission to Afghanistan said.
“This heinous and inhumane attack is indeed a crime against humanity,” Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said.
The wedding halls also serve as meeting places, and in November at least 55 people were killed when a suicide bomber sneaked into a Kabul wedding hall where hundreds of Muslim religious scholars and clerics had gathered to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.
Saturday night’s explosion came a few days after the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, with Kabul residents visiting family and friends, and just before Afghanistan marks its 100th independence day on Monday under heavier security in a city long familiar with checkpoints and razor wire.
The blast comes at a greatly uncertain time in Afghanistan as the U.S. and the Taliban near a deal to end a nearly 18-year war, America’s longest conflict.
The Afghan government has been sidelined from those discussions, and presidential spokesperson Seddiqi said earlier Saturday that his government was waiting to hear results of U.S. President Donald Trump’s meeting Friday with his national security team about the negotiations. Top issues include a U.S. troop withdrawal and Taliban guarantees not to let Afghanistan become a launching pad for global terror attacks.
But many Afghans fear that terror attacks inside the country will continue, and their pleas for peace — and for details on the talks — have increased in recent days.