ISIS claims suicide attack on Kabul protest by Hazara minority.
Afghanistan police say 2 separate suicide bombings killed 61 during a demonstration near Kabul Zoo
Afghan Interior Ministry says death toll in bomb attack on Kabul protest rises to 80 and 231 wounded.
Spokesmen for the Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the attack at a traffic circle jammed with demonstrators, according to Afghan media. The group’s media office said two Islamic State fighters detonated suicide belts among the crowd.
If indeed carried out by the Islamic State, known as Daesh in Afghanistan, it would be the first major urban attack in that country by the radical Sunni Muslim terrorist group and could signal its first deliberate effort to target Afghanistan’s Shiite minority, which it views as infidel.
Hundreds of Hazaras have reportedly fought alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s troops in Syria against Sunni groups, including the Islamic State, in recent years, making Hazaras a likely target for the group’s loyalists back in Afghanistan.
Until now, the Middle Eastern-based Islamic State has been active mainly in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, while the domestic Taliban insurgency has carried out numerous bombings and other attacks in the capital.
The blast in Kabul on Saturday afternoon happened during a demonstration by members of the Hazara, a Shiite minority group, near the Afghan Parliament building and Kabul University.
The group was demanding a large power project that could potentially ensure a power supply through their home Bamyan province, a relatively isolated area west of Kabul.
The attack appears to be the single deadliest attack in Kabul to be claimed by IS jihadists, who are making steady inroads in the country and challenging the Taliban on their own turf.
Much of the city centre had been sealed off with stacks of shipping containers and other obstacles as the march began earlier on Saturday (local time), and security was tight with helicopters patrolling overhead.
“Opportunist terrorists went among the protestors and set off explosions that killed and wounded a number of our countrymen including security and defence personnel,” President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement.
Saturday’s demonstrators had been demanding the 500 kV transmission line from Turkmenistan to Kabul be rerouted through two provinces with large Hazara populations, an option the Government says would cost millions and delay the badly needed project by years.
Demonstrators had gathered to demand a multi-million-dollar power line pass through their electricity-starved province of Bamiyan, one of the most deprived areas of Afghanistan with a large Hazara population.
The 500-kilovolt TUTAP power line, which would connect the Central Asian nations of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan with electricity-hungry Afghanistan and Pakistan, was originally set to pass through the central province.
But the government re-routed it through the mountainous Salang pass north of Kabul, saying the shorter route would speed up the project and save millions of dollars.
Hazara leaders in the country lashed out at the president, calling the decision prejudiced against their group.
The three million-strong Hazara community has been persecuted for decades, with thousands killed in the late 1990s by al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The Taliban have condemned the attack.
Spokesperson Zabiullah Mujaheed sent an e-mail to the media saying they were not behind it.
The Taliban, a fierce enemy of Islamic State, had issued a statement denying any involvement. “We would never take part in any incident that divides the Afghan people,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
Self-styled IS has a presence in eastern Afghanistan but has not previously admitted carrying out assaults in the capital.
An Afghan intelligence source told the BBC that an IS commander named Abo Ali had sent jihadists from the Achen district of Nangarhar province to carry out the Kabul attack.
The Persian-speaking Hazara, estimated to make up about 9 percent of the population, are Afghanistan’s third-largest minority but they have long suffered discrimination and thousands were killed under Taliban rule.
It was the deadliest bombing seen in Kabul since April, when more than 60 people were killed in an attack on offices used by the security services. That was considered the worst single incident of its kind in Kabul since 2011.