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Mortar attack strikes gathering of Afghan leaders

Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, June 15, 2011. (S.K. Vemmer/Department of State)

Dozens were killed or wounded Thursday in a mortar attack on a gathering attended by many Afghan government leaders, including the nation’s former president, officials in the capital said.

The attack in Kabul, involving as many as 10 mortar shells, targeted a memorial attended by hundreds of ethnic Hazara, as well as the government’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, former president Hamid Karzai and presidential candidate Hanif Atmar, media reports said.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on an affiliated website, saying it targeted a “Shiite celebration attended by senior government officials,” The Associated Press reported. The Shiite religious minority has been frequently targeted by the Sunni extremist group.

At least three people were killed and 22 wounded in the attack, said Waheed Mayar, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health.

None of the senior politicians were hurt, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reported.

The first blast came as Abdullah was giving speech at the outdoor gathering, which was being held to mark the anniversary of the death of Shiite and Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari, who the Taliban killed in 1995, Tolo reported.

“This is one of the signs of the enemies of Afghanistan,” Abdullah said after the first explosion, calling people to stay calm. The chief executive shares power with President Ashraf Ghani.

The militants attacked the gathering from inside a compound in the western outskirts of Kabul, Gen. Khoshal Sadat, a deputy minister for the nation’s Interior ministry, said on Twitter.

“Police will take strict actions,” Sadat tweeted, adding that police had surrounded the attackers.

Nearly a year ago to the day, a suicide bomber attacked a memorial service for Mazari outside a mosque in the same area, killing and wounding more than 30 people. That attack was also claimed by ISIS, which has targeted mosques, community centers and political rallies in Shiite-populated areas of Kabul, Herat and elsewhere.

Wounded in Thursday’s attack were eight security guards protecting Atmar, the presidential candidate and a former national security advisor, he said on Twitter after the attack.

“This was the most horrid and unforgivable attack on civilians by a merciless enemy,” Atmar said. “I’m pained by the loss of life and injury suffered by some many.”

Several politicians, including Abdullah and Ghani, also condemned the attack.

The incident drew criticism of the government from Mohammad Mohaqiq, one of the politicians at the event, Tolo reported.

“I want to know how Daesh or other terrorists managed to hit this gathering,” said Mohaqiq, former deputy chief executive, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. He suggested that the government was collaborating with the terrorists to target political rivals.

In response, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s president called the statement “regrettable” and an “insult” to the country’s security forces, its government and its people.

“The people of Afghanistan expect that Mr. Mohaqiq provide evidence to his claims,” said Haroon Chakhansuri, the spokesman.

ISIS also claimed responsibility for an attack on Wednesday on a construction company in eastern Nangarhar province that killed at least 17 people and triggered an hours-long gun battle with Afghan forces, assisted by U.S. troops.

The latest attacks comes as Taliban leaders believe a deal for the withdrawal for foreign troops is near, said a report in British internet outlet theArticle by Lynne O’Donnell and Mirwais Khan, both longtime reporters on Afghan affairs.

Reporting from London and Pakistan, they quoted Taliban leaders who stated their pivotal demand — that U.S. forces leave Afghanistan — had already been agreed to, though a timeline had not.


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