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An Afghan woman weeps at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan July 23, 2016. Image source: Reuters
  • The attack occurred as thousands of ethnic Hazaras marched through the streets
  • A website linked to the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the violence
  • An Afghan interior ministry statement says three suicide bombers assaulted the peaceful demonstrators

The Islamic State terror group claimed credit for a bomb attack in Kabul Saturday, July 23, that killed at least 80 people and wounded hundreds of others during a mass protest rally.

A website linked to the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the violence. A statement said the attack was meant to warn Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazaras, who are mostly Shiite, to stop joining the Syrian government in its fight against the terror group.

An Afghan interior ministry statement says three suicide bombers assaulted the peaceful demonstrators. It said one of them detonated his device among the protesters, one mistakenly killed only himself while a third was shot dead by security forces guarding the rally.

The attack occurred as thousands of ethnic Hazaras marched through the streets to demand a planned power line be rerouted through their poverty-stricken central province of Bamiyan.

Rights groups and analysts have accused Iran of covertly recruiting and training men from nearly three million Afghan refugees it hosts, including around one million registered refugees, and sending them to Syria to fight alongside government forces.

Ahead of Saturday’s rally in Kabul, authorities had blocked main roads to prevent protesters from reaching the city’s centre or the presidential palace. The measures severely restricted movement, forcing shops and businesses to close. It also hampered the ability of rescue workers to reach victims of the attack.

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President Ashraf Ghani condemned the violence as the work of “terrorists and opportunists”, saying the government put in place measures to provide security for the protesters.

“But terrorists entered the protests, and carried out explosions that martyred and wounded a number of citizens including members of security and defence forces,” he said.

Addressing a gathering in the palace, later in the evening of mainly Hazara leaders, Ghani vowed to bring those responsible to justice and declared Sunday as a national mourning day to offer special prayers for the victims in the mosques.

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“I gave orders for the formation of a special commission to be headed by the country’s attorney general that will include government and non-government personalities for the comprehensive investigations of the incident. Anyone found guilty in the government or outside the government will be punished,” the Afghan president said in his live televised speech.

Thousands of demonstrators march towards the center of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 23, 2016. Image source: AP

The United Nations, Pakistan’s foreign ministry and the U.S. embassy in Kabul each released statements condemning the attack.

“This attack is particularly heinous because it targeted civilians as they exercised their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He reiterated an attack deliberately targeting a large, concentrated group of civilians amounts to a war crime.

Amnesty International said the bombing of a peaceful protest demonstrated “the utter disregard that armed groups have for human life.”

In May, the Hazara community organised a similar mass demonstration against the current route of the multi-million-dollar regional electricity line involving Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The original plan was to route the so-called TUTAP line through Bamiyan, a mostly Hazara region. (VOA)



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