KABUL, April 22, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – An Islamic State suicide bomber killed at least 31 people including women and children and wounded dozens outside a voter registration centre in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday in the latest attack on election preparations.
The assaults underscore growing concerns about security in the lead-up to legislative elections scheduled for October 20, which are seen as a test-run for next year’s presidential poll.
“It happened at the entrance gate of the centre. It was a suicide attack,” Dawood Amin, city police chief, told AFP.
Both the health and interior ministries confirmed the latest toll for the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group via its propaganda arm Amaq.
“The final death toll from today’s terrorist attack in Kabul reached 31 martyred and 54 wounded. All the victims were civilians and women and children are among them,” Najib Danish, interior ministry spokesman, posted on Facebook.
The centre in the heavily Shiite-populated neighbourhood in the west of the city was also being used by people to register for national identification certificates, which they need to sign up to vote.
The last major attack in Kabul was on March 21 when an IS suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd celebrating the Persian New Year holiday, killing at least 33 people.
– Voter security –
Footage on Ariana TV showed pools of blood and shattered glass on the street.
Angry crowds shouted “Death to the government!” and “Death to the Taliban!”
A wounded man in a hospital bed wept as he told Ariana TV: “I don’t know where my daughters are. God damn the attackers!”
A witness to the attack named Akbar told Tolo TV: “Now we know the government cannot provide us security: we have to get armed and protect ourselves.”
Photos posted on social media purportedly of the scene showed several bodies on the ground and a badly damaged two-storey building.
Afghanistan began registering voters on April 14 for the long-delayed legislative elections.
Officials have acknowledged that security is a major concern as the Taliban and other militant groups control or contest large swathes of the country.
Afghan police and troops have been tasked with protecting polling centres, even as they struggle to get the upper hand against insurgents on the battlefield.
Militants on Friday launched rockets at a voter registration centre in the northwestern province of Badghis.
At least one police officer was killed and another person was wounded, officials said, blaming the Taliban.
On Tuesday gunmen attacked a voter registration centre in the central province of Ghor, kidnapping three election workers and two policemen.
Taliban militants released the five on Thursday.
Over the next two months, authorities hope to register up to 14 million adults at more than 7,000 polling centres for the parliamentary and district council elections.
Officials have been pushing people to register amid fears a low turnout will undermine the credibility of the polls.
Since the Persian New Year a tense calm has permeated the Afghan capital as people brace for the Taliban’s launch of its customary spring offensive.
The Taliban are under pressure to take up President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer made in February, but so far the group has given only a muted response.
Some Western and Afghan officials expect 2018 to be a particularly bloody year.
General John Nicholson, the top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, told Tolo TV last month that he expected the Taliban to carry out more suicide attacks this fighting season.