At least 50 people were killed in a suicide attack on a religious celebration in Kabul on Tuesday, officials said, in one of the deadliest assaults to strike Afghanistan this year.
Health ministry spokesman Wahid Majroh said no fewer than 72 people were wounded in the blast, which follows a wave of bloody violence across the war-torn country in recent weeks.
The deadly assault targeted religious scholars and leaders inside a wedding hall where hundreds had gathered to mark the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday (Maulud) — one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar.
Religious studies lecturer Mohammad Hanif said verses of the Koran were being recited when there was a deafening explosion followed by “chaos” inside the packed hall.
“More than 60 or 70 people were martyred,” Hanif, 31, told AFP outside a trauma facility run by Italian NGO Emergency. He escaped unhurt.
“They suffered burns, everyone in the halls was screaming for help.”
A photo posted on WhatsApp purportedly of the function room showed blood-splattered bodies, some with clothes partially ripped off by the force of the blast, overturned chairs and broken glass strewn over the floor.
President Ashraf Ghani declared Wednesday a national day of mourning for the victims of the attack, which he described in a statement as an “unforgivable crime”.
A manager of the multi-storey Uranus Wedding Palace said the suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of the gathering of around 1,000 people.
“There are a lot of casualties — I myself have counted 30 casualties,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, but the Islamic State group has claimed most recent suicide attacks in Kabul, which has become the most dangerous place in the country for civilians.