Five people have been killed and over 40 injured in a car-bomb attack near an Afghan army base in the northern province of Balkh.
The bomb went off around 8.45am local time on Tuesday morning in a crowded area of Balkh district, close to an animal clinic, an official from the Afghan Ministry of Defense said.
“Three people including two civilians were killed and more than 40 others were injured in an attack on 209 Shaheen Army Corps base,” Hanif Rezayee, spokesperson for the army corps, said.
“Many women and children are among those killed,” he added, saying that the number of casualties was likely to rise because of the location of the attack.
Social media accounts associated with the Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that it was vengeance against the mutilation of dead Taliban fighters’ bodies by Afghan soldiers.
“This heroic attack was also an act of revenge in response to the atrocities of the enemy that mutilated the bodies of the martyrs of the Islamic Emirate in Balkh and Zabul, as well as bombings, and rocket attacks on the homes of civilians,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesperson, said in a statement.
A video circulating on social media, earlier this month showed Afghan soldiers mutilating the bodies of the Taliban fighters they had killed. The disturbing footage reportedly shows men in Afghan army uniforms hacking the heads off the bodies of an alleged Taliban fighter.
The video was criticised by many in Afghanistan and further afield, prompting an investigation from the Afghan Ministry of Defence. The results of the investigation have not yet been made public.
The impact of Tuesday’s attack was largely felt by civilians. Graphic images shared on social media in the aftermath of the bomb showed severely damaged homes and vehicles.
"Our entire house is damaged, our whole neighbourhood is destroyed," Noorullah, a resident of Balkh district and a victim of the attack, told The National at a local hospital, while seeking medical attention for his children who were injured during the attack.
“It was a very loud explosion that brought down our whole house. My son, daughter and I have been badly injured. Who are these people killing, we are all Afghans,” he said, in frustration and anger.
“For the sake of God, I ask them to please stop this violence,” he pleaded.
A steady increase in Taliban violence and civilian casualties has punctured hopes of possible negotiations between the Afghan government and the insurgency group.
In a separate attack in Kabul around the same time, Saba Sahar, an Afghan policewoman who is also a filmmaker, was injured in a shooting attack, Afghan officials said on Tuesday. The Afghan capital has seen a spate of targeted assassination attempts over the last year since the start of the peace negotiations with Taliban.
"The rise in attacks and assassination attempts on human rights defenders, political activists, journalists and film actors is extremely worrying," NGO Amnesty International said in a statement. "These attacks must be investigated and the perpetrators held accountable. The authorities must protect everyone at risk."
The talks between the two warring parties were expected to begin earlier this year, after the US and Taliban came to a signed agreement. However, the intra-Afghan efforts have been delayed several times over rigid conditions and growing violence.