KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) — At least 27 people were killed in an attack on a political rally in Kabul on Friday, in the deadliest assault in Afghanistan since the United States signed a withdrawal deal with the Taliban.
The attack highlights the glaring lack of security in the heavily fortified Afghan capital 14 months before the scheduled withdrawal of all foreign forces under an agreement signed on Feb. 29.
Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said women and children were among the dead and 29 people were wounded. “Special forces units are carrying out clearance operations against the attackers,” he said. “The figures will change.”
Nizamuddin Jalil, a health ministry official, said 29 people had been killed and 30 wounded.
The Taliban immediately denied responsibility for the assault, at a commemoration ceremony for Abdul Ali Mazari, a politician from the Hazara ethnic group, most of whom are Shiite.
An Islamic State group claimed attack on the same ceremony last year when a barrage of mortar fire killed at least 11 people.
Rahimi said that gunfire had erupted from a construction site near the ceremony in the city’s west, which is largely Shiite.
Photos on social media showed several dead bodies being collected after the attack.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the massacre, calling it a “crime against humanity.”
The ceremony was attended by many of the country’s political elite, including Afghanistan’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah.
The interior ministry said that “all the high-ranking officials were safely evacuated from the scene.”
“We left the ceremony following the gunfire, and a number of people were wounded, but I do not have any reports of martyred people for now,” Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq told Tolo News, a 24-hour Afghanistan news channel.
The massacre came less than a week after the United States and Taliban signed a deal that would pave the way for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops in 14 months.
The U.S. withdrawal hinges to a great extent on the Taliban being able to control jihadist forces such as the Islamic State.
If such groups remain, so too does the U.S. military.
Since the much-trumpeted deal signing, fighting has continued to rage across Afghanistan, casting a pall over hopes the agreement would reduce violence and lead to talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which the Taliban consider a U.S. puppet.
ISIS, which follows a radical Sunni interpretation of Islam, became active in Afghanistan in 2015 and for years held territory in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
It has claimed responsibility for a string of horrific bombings, including several in Kabul targeting the city’s Shiite community.
In recent months the group has been hit by mounting setbacks after being hunted for years by U.S. and Afghan forces along with multiple Taliban offensives targeting their fighters.
Still, ISIS remains in Afghanistan, notably in eastern Kunar province near the Pakistan border, which also borders Nangarhar and Kabul.
© Agence France-Presse