KABUL (Reuters) - A suicide bomber blew himself up near a Shi’ite shrine in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 29 people and wounding dozens, officials said, as the Afghan capital celebrated the Nawruz holiday marking the start of the Persian new year.
The explosion underlined the threat to the city from militant attacks, despite government promises to tighten security in the wake of an attack in January that killed around 100 people.
Militant group Islamic State, which has claimed several previous attacks on Shi’ite targets, claimed responsibility, its Amaq news agency said. The Taliban issued a statement denying any connection.
Kabul had been on alert for attacks over the Nawruz holiday but the bomber was still able to detonate his explosives as people were leaving the Kart-e Sakhi shrine, in a heavily Shi’ite area in the west of the city.
“When the explosion took place, I fell to the ground and I saw many people on the ground around me,” said Ramazan, who was wounded in the blast at the shrine, near the city’s main university.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said the bomber had apparently intended to reach the shrine, which was attacked during a Shi’ite festival in October 2016, but had been prevented from getting closer by police checkpoints.
“We had our security in place in and around the shrine,” he said. “All the casualties were young people who were either passing by on the road or gathering to enjoy Nawruz.”
Dr Waheed Majroh, a spokesman for the ministry of public health, said 29 people were confirmed dead with 52 wounded being treated in hospitals in the city. Women and children were among the casualties, he said.
Nawruz, an ancient Persian celebration of the start of spring, is widely celebrated in many parts of Afghanistan but has also faced opposition from some fundamentalist Muslims, who say it is un-Islamic.
The seemingly endless attacks have undermined support for the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who offered last month to hold peace talks with Taliban insurgents fighting to drive out international forces and reimpose their version of strict Islamic law.
The Taliban have so far shown little sign of accepting the offer of talks with the Western-backed government, which they consider an illegitimate, foreign-imposed regime, although they have offered to talk to the United States.
Additional reporting by Mohammad Aziz and Omar Fahmy in CAIRO; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez