Kabul blasts shake rally attended by senior Afghanistan politicians

At least three killed, including a woman and children

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Men carry an injured person to the hospital after attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan March 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
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A mortar attack on a gathering in Kabul on Thursday killed at least three people and injured 22, including a woman and children, officials said.

The ceremony, attended by officials, was in light of 24th death anniversary of Abdul Ali Mazari, an Afghan politician popular among Afghanistan’s Hazara Shia minority. He was assassinated in 1995 by the Taliban, and was recently awarded the title of the ‘Martyr Of National Unity’.

Many prominent Afghan political figures were targeted, including the chief executive Dr Abdulla Abdullah, former president Hamid Karzai and former National Security Adviser and presidential candidate Mohammed Hanif Atmar, who escaped the attack unharmed.

"This was the most horrid and unforgivable attack on civilians by a merciless enemy," tweeted Mr Atmar. Eight of his body guards were injured.

The attack claimed by ISIS, represents a major security breach and marks a resumption of violence in the capital casting a shadow on the ongoing peace talks between the US and Taliban in Doha. One of the militants has been arrested by Afghanistan security forces and the rest are surrounded by police, the General Khoshal Sadat, the Deputy Minister for Security said.

ISIS later said its fighters targeted the ceremony with mortar fire, according to a statement published by the group's propaganda agency Amaq. The group however has been relatively quiet in recent months as the Taliban, Afghan security forces, and the US all target IS's shrinking stronghold in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border.

According to local media, it was an elaborate assault involving rockets and hand grenades. The first rockets fell while Dr Abdullah was delivering his speech.

“Terrorists were firing mortars at Abdul Ali Mazari remembrance ceremony, from inside a compound [that] belongs to Roshan phone tower,” said General Khoshal Sadat, deputy minister security, Ministry of Interior.

A local reporter, who was close to the attack, told The National he heard up to 24 explosions.

"I was distributing flowers to women ahead of Women's Day, and was a few miles out, on the main road when I heard the explosions," Sahraa, an artist, told The National.

“There was wave of explosions,” said Sahraa, who asked that her full name not be disclosed. “People were screaming and there was a change in environment,” she said as she left the area of the attack, clutching the leftover flowers.

But the younger girls around Sahraa seemed unfazed. “It didn’t seem to startle them as much…they cursed the political leaders of the country,” she said, denoting what some say is rising apathy among Afghans toward violence.

The latest civilian casualties report released earlier this month by UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded the highest number of civilian casualties in 2018. An estimated 10,993 casualties - 3,804 of them deaths, making it the deadliest year in the Afghan war.

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack as criminal and against democratic values.

"Attacking public gatherings is a criminal act and is enmity against civil and democratic values," Mr Ghani said.

The last major attack in Kabul occurred in January when the Taliban claimed responsibility for a car bomb that struck the heavily fortified Green Village foreign compound.