Taliban suicide bombers killed 48 people in two separate attacks in Afghanistan, the deadliest near an election rally by President Ashraf Ghani, who was not hurt.
The attacks happened 11 days ahead of the Afghanistan presidential election, which Taliban commanders vow to violently disrupt and follow collapsed peace talks between the United States and the insurgent group.
Ghani, seeking a second five-year term in voting on September 28, was due to address a rally in Charikar, capital of Parwan province, when a suicide bomber attacked.
The blast killed 26 people and wounded 42, said Nasrat Rahimi, interior ministry spokesman.
“When people were entering the police camp, an old man on a motorcycle detonated explosives, causing casualties,” said Parwan provincial police chief Mohammad Mahfooz Walizada.
In the wake of the attack, bodies littered dusty ground as smoke rose from the explosion, a giant blue billboard bearing the face of Ghani’s running mate Amrullah Saleh looming over the scene.
With sirens wailing, rescuers rushed to lift the wounded into pick-up trucks for evacuation.
“Women and children are among them and most victims seem to be civilians,” said Abdul Qasim Sangin, head of Parwan’s provincial hospital.
The president was nearby but unharmed and later took to Twitter to condemn the bombing.
“Taliban tried to break this unity by targeting innocent civilians,” he wrote. “They shamelessly accepted responsibility when they’re cloaking acts of terror as efforts for peace.”
“PEOPLE WERE GIVEN WARNING”
In a separate incident, a man on foot blew himself up in Kabul, sending ambulances and Afghan forces rushing to the blast site.
“I was waiting at the recruitment centre entrance,” said Mustafa Ghiasi, on a hospital bed after being wounded. “I was behind two men when the blast struck.”
Twenty-two people were killed and 38 wounded, said Rahimi. Most of the dead were civilians, including women and children and six were security force members.
The Taliban carried out the attacks and a statement issued by a spokesman for the insurgents said they were aimed at security forces.
“People were given warning,” the statement said.
“Do not take part in the puppet administration’s election rallies, because such gatherings are our military target,” said the statement. “If, despite the warning, someone gets hurt, they themselves are to blame.”
Addressing the Kabul attack, Afghanistan’s president lashed out at the Taliban as the “coward enemy” for targeting civilians.
“I offer heartfelt condolences to victims in Kabul and Parwan and pray for speedy recovery of the wounded,” Ghani wrote on his official Twitter account. “We stand united in this hour of grief.”
Pakistan, which denies accusations it shelters the Taliban, condemned the attack.
“We offer our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families,” it said in a statement.
Security at rallies across the country is tight following threats to attack meetings and polling stations. The group vowed to intensify clashes with Afghan and foreign forces to dissuade people from voting.