35 Dead as Islamic State Claims First Attack Inside Afghanistan

An Afghan man holds his son, who was injured in a suicide bomb attack, outside a local hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, on April 18. Islamic State militants have claimed responsibility.

KABUL/ISLAMABAD (DPA) – A group aligned with the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 35 people and the attacker in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, marking the first attack by the extremist movement in the country.

"The attack was carried out by Abu Mohammed, who is our man. He targeted government workers," Shahidullah Shahid, the purported spokesman for the group, said in a message posted online.

Shahid was a former spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban.

A further 115 people were injured in the attack, which saw a suicide bomber enter a crowded area of Jalalabad – the provincial capital of Nangarhar – and blow himself up, provincial police and health department officials said.

"Thirty-four were killed and 115 injured in today's attack according to our latest figure," said Najib Kamawal, a provincial health department official.

This is the biggest attack in Afghanistan since NATO withdrew its combat troops at the end of last year.

"The bomber blew himself up at a busy time in the centre of the city where several government offices, a private bank branch and marketplaces are located," provincial governor's spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai said.

"Most of the dead and injured are innocent civilians, but police might have also suffered casualties because the attack took place close to a checkpoint," Abdulzai said. Among the dead were two brothers who were the grooms in a double wedding last week, local media reported.

There were conflicting reports about whether the bomber was on foot or rode a motorbike. Two more bombs were found later in the vicinity, the police said.

Police spokesman Hazrat Hossein Mashreqiwal said a second bomb attached to a motorcycle exploded a few minutes after the suicide attack, but did not cause casualties.

One hour after the Jalalabad attack, a magnetic bomb attached to a car exploded in Nangarhar's Behsood district, killing one civilian and injuring three, Abdulzai said.

This is the first time an Islamic State-aligned group, which includes former Pakistani Taliban mid-level commanders, has claimed responsibility for an attack in Afghanistan.

The group is one of the several disenchanted factions of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban movements that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

Political analysts say Islamic State supporters represent only a small number of people in pockets of remote areas.

However, in many parts of Afghanistan, local government officials and tribal elders have reported sighting the black flag of the Islamic State, but there is no proof that the fighters exist. Nor have there been reports of battle between them and the Afghan security forces.

Saturday's attack comes amid a spate of violence that has left more than 100 people dead across the country in the past 10 days, one Interior Ministry official said.

Members of the Afghan Taliban, which has also conducted suicide attacks in the country, condemned Saturday's bombing, calling it "an evil act."

President Ashraf Ghani also said the attack was "the most cowardly act of terrorists targeting innocent civilians."

He made the comment during his visit to the north-eastern province of Badakshan, where 33 Afghan soldiers were killed earlier this month when Taliban fighters stormed army posts in Jurm district.

"If we don't stand against these pople united, they will destroy us," local media quoted him as saying in front of hundreds of people who had gathered in Faizabad, the capital of Badakhshan.

The suicide attack coincided with the visit of a top UN human rights official to Jalalabad.

"The use of suicide bombs and other devices in such an indiscriminate way by insurgent groups clearly constitutes a war crime, and those responsible for organizing or perpetrating such attacks must be brought to justice," Ivan Simonovic, UN assistant secretary general for human rights, said in a statement.

He met with the provincial governor and security officials after the attack, according to the statement.

Last year saw the highest number of civilian casualties in recent years, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said. The trend continued into the first quarter of 2015.

Meanwhile, in the north-eastern province of Ghazni, four civilians were beheaded by unknown assailants, officials said.

The spokesman for the provincial governor, Nang Safi, said the victims, members of the Hazara Shiite minority, had been abducted a week ago.

 

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