A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a sports club in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 20 people and wounding another 70, officials said, in the latest attack in the Afghan capital.
The attacker shot dead a security guard before detonating explosives inside the club in Dasht-e-Barchi, a Shiite-majority neighborhood of Kabul, according to witnesses on Wednesday, September 5.
The dead include two Afghan journalists from Tolo news, the country’s largest broadcaster.
An hour after a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the sports hall, a car packed with explosives detonated as journalists and security forces gathered at the scene, police spokesperson Hashmat Stanikzai said.
At least four journalists were wounded in the second explosion, media support group NAI said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the twin bombings.
“An attack on civilians and media workers of the country is an attack on freedom of speech and crime against humanity,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement.
A spokesperson at the interior ministry said at least 20 people were killed and another 70 wounded in the blasts. An Afghan security source confirmed the casualty toll.
Civilians and members of the security forces also were among the dead and wounded.
Health ministry spokesperson Wahid Majroh had earlier put the death toll at 16 people and another 60 wounded.
“I was outside when the first explosion happened, which has killed over 30 people, many of them wrestlers,” Pahlawan Shir, director of the Maiwand wrestling club, told AFP.
“I was searching for my coach, I have finally found him in the … hospital. He is in a critical condition.”
Social media users who purportedly witnessed the attack said the bomber killed the guards at the club before blowing himself up inside.
He “detonated inside where a large number of athletes had gathered. There are a lot of dead and wounded,” Mohammad Hanif said on Facebook.
A photo posted on Twitter purportedly showed several victims being loaded into the back of a police pick-up.
On the other side of the country, two consecutive explosions near a police checkpoint in Herat city wounded three civilians and two police officers, Herat police spokesperson Abdul Ahad Walizada told AFP.
Civilians paying the price
The last major attack on Afghanistan’s Shiite minority was on August 15 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in an education center in Kabul, killing dozens of students.
Islamic State-Khorasan Province said it was also behind that attack, which drew international condemnation and came amid a wave of deadly violence across the country.
Most of the victims were studying for college entrance exams when the blast happened.
Civilians have long borne the brunt of the violence in Afghanistan – especially in Kabul, a target of both the Taliban and ISKP.
Journalists also have paid a heavy price covering the conflict. At least 11 were killed in the first six months of the year, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee said in a report, describing the period as the “bloodiest.”
On April 30, twin explosions in Kabul killed nine journalists and 16 other people. Among the dead was AFP chief photographer Shah Marai.
AFP driver Mohammad Akhtar was killed less than three months later in a suicide attack in Kabul that also claimed the lives of 22 others.
Wednesday’s attack comes a day after the Taliban announced the death of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who founded the eponymous militant group which is widely suspected of being behind some of the attacks in Kabul claimed by ISKP.
Afghan special forces arrested 11 Haqqani militants in Kabul and nearby districts, the country’s intelligence agency said Wednesday.
The Taliban has been conducting blistering attacks on security forces across Afghanistan, including the massive, days-long onslaught on the eastern city of Ghazni last month.
This story was updated throughout the day on September 5 with additional information and developments.
With reporting from AFP