Deadly suicide bombing hits Afghan city of Kandahar

Relatives stand around the dead body of a victim of a suicide bomb attack during a funeral ceremony at a mosque in Kandahar (Sanaullah SEIAM)
Relatives stand around the dead body of a victim of a suicide bomb attack during a funeral ceremony at a mosque in Kandahar (Sanaullah SEIAM)

A suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State group in the Afghan city of Kandahar killed three people on Thursday, said Taliban authorities, while a hospital source put the death toll at 20.

The explosion at around 8:00 am (0330 GMT) targeted a group of people waiting outside the New Kabul Bank branch in central Kandahar city, in the southern province of the same name that is the birthplace of the Taliban movement.

The provincial information department said three people had been killed and 12 were wounded, but a source at a major hospital in the southern city said the toll was much higher.

"Mirwais Hospital has received 20 people killed since this morning from the explosion," the source said on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal for speaking to the media.

Taliban authorities had charged the Islamic State (IS) group with the bombing, which was later claimed by the jihadists.

An IS fighter "detonated his explosive belt" near "a gathering of the Taliban militia" near a bank in Kandahar city, said a statement from the jihadists' Amaq news agency on the Telegram messaging app.

Afghan interior ministry spokesman Abdul Mateen Qani told AFP investigations were ongoing and that "the criminals will be identified... and punished for their actions".

Inamullah Samangani, director of information and culture of Kandahar province, said the bank was busy with people collecting their salaries when the explosion went off.

"Commonly our compatriots gather there to collect their salaries," he said, adding that the "victims were civilians".

One of the dead, Khalil Ahmad, a father of eight in his forties, had gone to the bank to get his salary, his nephew said at his funeral later Thursday.

"He was just an ordinary, simple guy, he used to work as a painter," Mohammad Shafiq Saraaj said, as Ahmad's relatives gathered around his body wrapped in a white cloth for burial.

"Such incidents used to happen under the previous government... and now it is happening as well," Saraaj said.

"We beg for security to be properly maintained in the country and especially in crowded places, and that our nation be saved from this kind of tragedy."

- 'Under control' -

In the explosion's aftermath, Taliban authorities surrounded the area outside the bank and did not let journalists close to the site.

However, an AFP correspondent saw what appeared to be unconscious people or dead bodies being loaded into ambulances following the blast.

Firefighters and security personnel cleared the area, where blood, clothes and shoes had littered the ground.

Samangani said Thursday morning that "the situation is under control" at one of the city's hospitals where the wounded were transported, denying there was an urgent need for blood donations as had circulated on social media.

"There is no such issue, and the wounded people are not in serious condition, they have superficial injuries," he said in a message to journalists.

Afghanistan's capital is Kabul but Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada lives in Kandahar city, the country's second largest.

The number of bomb blasts and suicide attacks in Afghanistan has markedly declined since the Taliban ended their insurgency after seizing power in August 2021, ousting the US-backed government.

However, a number of armed groups -- including the regional chapter of IS -- remain a threat.

Multiple explosions have been reported around Afghanistan since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on March 11, but few have been confirmed by Taliban officials.

The US Charge d'Affaires for Afghanistan, Karen Decker, condemned "all acts of terror" in a post on X, offering condolences to the victims' families.

"Afghans should be able to observe Ramadan peacefully & without fear," she said.

The regional chapter of IS has a history of targeting Shiites they consider heretics but is also a rival of the Taliban, with whom the group shares an austere Sunni ideology.