Islamic State jihadists claimed responsibility for twin explosions Saturday that ripped through crowds of Shiite Hazaras in Kabul, killing at least 80 people and wounding 231 others in the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since 2001.
The bombings during a huge protest over a power line mark the first major IS assault on Kabul, apparently aimed at sowing sectarian discord in a country well known for Shia-Sunni harmony.
Charred bodies and dismembered limbs littered the scene of the attack, with ambulances struggling to reach the site as authorities had overnight blocked key intersections with stacked shipping containers to control movement of the protesters.
“As a result of the attack 80 people were martyred and 231 others were wounded,” the interior ministry said.
“The attack was carried out by three suicide bombers… The third attacker was gunned down by security forces.”
The wounded overwhelmed city hospitals, officials said, with reports emerging of blood shortages and urgent appeals for donors circulating on social media.
The Taliban, who are in the middle of their annual summer offensive and are more powerful than IS, strongly denied any involvement in the attack.
The Islamic State group claimed the bombings in a statement carried by its affiliated Amaq news agency, calling it an attack on Shiites.
“Two fighters of the Islamic State detonated their explosive belts in a gathering of Shiites in… Kabul,” Amaq said.
The attack represents a major escalation for IS, which so far has largely been confined to the eastern province of Nangarhar.
JULY 23, 2016 : Twin explosions targeting a large demonstration by members of Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazara minority in the capital, Kabul, have killed at least 61 people and wounded 207 others, officials have said.
Mohammad Ismail Kawoosi, the health ministry spokesman, told the AFP news agency that the death toll from Saturday’s blasts could rise further.
The attack was quickly claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), who have previously targeted the Hazara people.
“Two fighters from Islamic State detonated explosive belts at a gathering of Shi’ites in… the city of Kabul in Afghanistan,” Amaq, an ISIL-linked website, said.
Graphic television footage from the site of the blasts showed many dead bodies lying on a bloodied road, close to where thousands of the Hazara had been demonstrating over the route of a planned multimillion dollar power line.
Al Jazeera’s Qais Azimy, reporting from Kabul, said it was one of the deadliest attacks in the capital for years.
“It was just at the last minutes of the demonstration when suddenly an explosion happened. Eye witnesses are telling us that tens of people injured have been injured,” Azimy said.