At least 61 dead, over 100 others wounded in explosion that ripped through crowd of protesters.
A powerful explosion on Saturday ripped through crowds of minority Shia Hazaras in Kabul who had gathered to protest over a power line, killing at least 61 people and leaving over 100 others wounded, officials said.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the blast, but it comes in the middle of the Taliban’s annual summer offensive, which the insurgents are ramping up after a brief lull during the recent holy fasting month of Ramzan.
The scene of the blast was littered with charred bodies and dismembered limbs, with ambulances struggling to reach the scene as authorities had overnight blocked key intersections with stacked shipping containers to impede movement of the protesters.
“At least 20 people have been killed and another 160 others wounded, but these are initial figures from our hospitals and could change,” said health ministry spokesman Mohammad Ismail Kawoosi. Another official later amended the death toll to 61, adding that over 100 people were injured.
Thousands of demonstrators had gathered to demand that a multimillion-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 horrific attack on a group of peaceful protestors in Kabul demonstrates the utter disregard that armed groups have for human life,” Amnesty International said in a statement. “Such attacks are a reminder that the conflict in Afghanistan is not winding down, as some believe, but escalating, with consequences for the human rights situation in the country that should alarm us all.”
In a statement, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he was “deeply saddened” by the carnage, adding that the casualties included security officials. “Peaceful protest is the right of every citizen, but opportunist terrorists infiltrated the crowds and carried out the attack, killing and injuring a number of citizens including some security forces.”
The protest march was largely peaceful before the explosion struck as the demonstrators sought to march on the presidential palace, waving flags and chanting slogans such as “death to discrimination.”
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.