Ayaz Gul – Voice of America
Authorities in Afghanistan say a massive suicide bomb blast late Saturday inside a packed wedding hall in Kabul "killed and injured dozens of civilians."
There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the bombing in a western part of the Afghan capital. The victims were mostly members of the minority Shiite Hazara community.
Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi confirmed the blast and blamed "enemies of Afghanistan" for plotting the carnage. He said the attacker set off explosives among the wedding participants.
Rahimi said police and ambulances quickly reached the site and victims were transported to city hospitals. He said the nature of the blast was being determined, and he promised to issue an exact casualty toll and other details soon.
Local journalists quoted survivors as saying they saw dozens of bodies all around the hall following the powerful explosion.
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.''
Officials were not expected to release a death toll until daytime Sunday.
``There are so many dead and wounded,'' said survivor Ahmad Omid, 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.''
``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, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said in a Twitter post.
Taliban insurgents routinely carry out attacks against government security forces in Kabul. But almost all recent bombings against the Hazara community in the city have been claimed by Islamic State's Afghan branch, known as Khorasan Province.
The attack in Afghanistan came as the United States and the Taliban are closing in on an agreement to conclude a nearly 18-year war — America's longest conflict.
The Afghan government has been excluded from those negotiations, and presidential spokesman Seddiqi said Saturday that his government was waiting to hear results of President Donald Trump's meeting Friday with his national security team about the discussions. Among the key issues are the withdrawal of U.S. troops and Taliban vows not to let Afghanistan become a launching pad for global terror attacks.
The Taliban pledged earlier this year to do more to protect civilians, but it nevertheless continues to stage deadly attacks against Afghan security forces and others in what is seen by many as an attempt to strengthen its position at the talks.
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict in Afghanistan, where more than 1,500 civilians were killed or wounded in July alone, according to the United Nations.
The conflict continues to take a horrific toll on civilians. Last year, more than 3,800, including more than 900 children, were killed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, U.S. and allied forces, the Islamic State affiliate and other actors, the United Nations said.