Daesh claims bombing at Kabul wedding that killed 63; Afghan PM says Taliban also to blame

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Afghan men carry the bodies of the victims during a mass funeral after a suicide bomb blast at a wedding in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 18, 2019. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)
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Afghan men dig graves during a mass funeral after a suicide bomb blast at a wedding in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 18, 2019. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)
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Relatives grieve near the coffins of victims of the Dubai City wedding hall bombing during a mass funeral in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug.18, 2019. (AP)
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Workers inspect a wedding hall after it was hit by a suicide bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 18, 2019. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail)
Updated 19 August 2019

Daesh claims bombing at Kabul wedding that killed 63; Afghan PM says Taliban also to blame

  • Saudi Arabia denounces bombing, renews ‘firm position’ against violence
  • The Taliban have condemned the attack and denied any involvement

KABUL: The suicide bomber stood in the middle of the dancing, clapping crowd as hundreds of Afghan children and adults celebrated a wedding in a joyous release from Kabul’s strain of war. Then, in a flash, he detonated his explosives-filled vest, killing dozens — and Afghanistan grieved again.

The local Daesh affiliate claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack in the capital this year, with 63 killed and 182 wounded, while outraged Afghans questioned just how safe they will be under an approaching deal between the United States and the Taliban to end America’s longest war.

The Taliban condemned the attack but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said they shared responsibility. “The Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide a platform for terrorists,” he said.

Ghani said the attack was “barbaric,” and Afghanistan’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a “crime against humanity.”

Saudi Arabia offered its condolences to the victims’ families and the government and people of Afghanistan, wishing the injured a speedy recovery.. “We condemn and denounce the suicide bombing,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. 

“We renew the Kingdom’s firm position against targeting and terrorizing innocent people, and all manifestations of terrorism and violence.”

The explosion came just ahead of Afghanistan’s 100th Independence Day on Monday. The city, long familiar with checkpoints and razor wire, has been under heavier security. It was not immediately clear if planned events in Kabul would go ahead.

 

 

Peace talks

The attack came as the Taliban and the US try to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with the Afghan government. So far the Taliban have refused to talk to the government.

The US special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the attack showed the need to accelerate efforts to reach a deal with the Taliban, to help defeat Daesh.

But there are concerns among Afghan officials and US national security aides that Afghanistan could be plunged into a new civil war that could bring a return of Taliban rule and a refuge for extremists such as Daesh.

While the US wants Taliban assurances that Afghanistan will no longer be used as a launch pad for global terror attacks, there appear to be no guarantees of protection for Afghan civilians.

The Taliban, which the US hopes will help curb the Daesh affiliate’s rise, condemned Saturday’s attack as “forbidden and unjustifiable.”

The blast took place in a western Kabul neighborhood that is home to many in the country’s minority Shiite Hazara community. Daesh, which declared war on Afghanistan’s Shiites nearly two years ago and has claimed responsibility for many attacks targeting them in the past, said in a statement that a Pakistani Daesh fighter seeking martyrdom targeted a large Shiite gathering.

The wedding, at which more than 1,200 people had been invited, was in fact a mixed crowd of Shiites and Sunnis, said the event hall’s owner, Hussain Ali.

Ali’s workers were still finding body parts, including hands, in the shattered wedding hall, its floor strewn with broken glass, pieces of furniture and victims’ shoes.

“We have informed the police to come and collect them,” he said.

The bomber detonated his explosives near the stage where musicians were playing and “all the youths, children and all the people who were there were killed,” said Gul Mohammad, another witness.

Survivors described a panicked scene in the suddenly darkened hall as people screamed and scrambled to find loved ones.

“I was with the groom in the other room when we heard the blast and then I couldn’t find anyone,” said Ahmad Omid, who said the groom was his father’s cousin. “Everyone was lying all around the hall.”

 

Buried with bare hands

Many of the dead and wounded were women and children attending the wedding. Bodies were strewn amid overturned tables and chairs, with dark bloodstains on the wedding hall carpet.Both the bride and groom survived the attack, but newlywed Mirwais Elmi was distraught. “I won’t ever be able to forget this, however much I try,” he said.

“My family, my bride, are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting. I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again.”

The bride’s father said 14 members of his family had been killed.




An Afghan boy mourns during the funeral of his brother who wasn killed in a suicide bomb attack at a wedding in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 18, 2019. (REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)

 

“People were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened,” said wedding guest Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured. “After the explosion there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones.”

Stunned families buried the dead, some digging with their bare hands. One wounded survivor, Mohammad Aslim, still wore his bloodied clothes the day after the blast late Saturday. He and his friends had already buried 16 bodies, among them several close relatives, including a 7-year-old boy.

Aslim looked exhausted, and said he was waiting to bury more. Nearby a man named Amanullah, who lost his 14-year-old son, said in anguish that the explosion had mangled the boy’s face so badly he could no longer recognize it.

“I wish I could find the pieces of my son’s body and put them as one piece into the grave,” he cried.

The blast at the wedding hall, known as Dubai City, shattered a period of relative calm in Kabul.

On Aug. 7, a Taliban car bomber aimed at Afghan security forces detonated his explosives on the same road, a short drive from the hall, killing 14 people and wounding 145 — most of them women, children and other civilians.

Kabul’s huge, brightly lit wedding halls are centers of community life in a city weary of decades of war, with thousands of dollars often spent on a single evening.

Messages of shock poured in on Sunday. “Such acts are beyond condemnation,” the European Union mission to Afghanistan said. “An act of extreme depravity,” US Ambassador John Bass said. A deliberate attack on civilians “can only be described as a cowardly act of terror,” UN envoy to Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto said.

(With AP)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

Updated 59 min 55 sec ago

France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

PARIS: Nurses in white coats replaced uniformed soldiers as stars of France’s Bastille Day ceremonies Tuesday as the usual grandiose military parade was recalibrated to honor medics who died fighting COVID-19, supermarket cashiers, postal workers and other heroes of the pandemic.
With tears in their eyes or smiles on their faces, medical workers stood silently as lengthy applause rang out over the Place de la Concorde in central Paris from President Emmanuel Macron, the head of the World Health Organization and 2,000 other guests. A military choir sang the Marseillaise national anthem, and troops unfurled an enormous French tricolor flag across the plaza.
For some, the national homage is not nearly enough to make up for the equipment and staff shortages that plagued public hospitals as the virus raced across France, claiming more than 30,000 lives. Activists sent a banner above the ceremony tied to balloons reading: “Behind the tributes, Macron is suffocating hospitals.”
This year’s commemoration also paid homage to former President Charles de Gaulle, 80 years after the historic appeal he made to opponents of France’s Nazi occupiers that gave birth to the French Resistance.
But the battle against the virus was the main focus of the official event in central Paris, as Macron sought to highlight France’s successes in combating its worst crisis since World War II. Mirage and Rafale fighter jets painted the sky with blue-white-and-red smoke, and were joined by helicopters that had transported COVID-19 patients in distress.
Macron called the ceremony “the symbol of the commitment of an entire nation” and “the symbol of our resilience.”
The guests included nurses, doctors, supermarket and nursing home workers, mask makers, lab technicians, undertakers and others who kept France going during its strict nationwide lockdown. Families of medical workers who died with the virus also had a place in the stands.
“Exceptionally, this year, our armies ... will cede the primary place to the women and men in hospital coats who fought” the virus and who remain “ramparts in the crisis,” Macron said.
It was a Bastille Day unlike any other, as medics in jeans or sandals strolled onto the plaza for the climax of the ceremony, and the lengthy military parade was truncated into a smaller affair closed to the public to prevent new virus infections.
Masks were ubiquitous. Troops sported them as they got in formation, took them off for the ceremony, then put them on again when it was over. Macron made a point of donning his before speaking to WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus.
Across town from the Place de la Concorde, protesters plan to highlight France’s failures during the pandemic. Among those expected to demonstrate are medical workers who decried mask shortages and cost cuts that left one of the world’s best health care systems ill-prepared for the galloping spread of the virus.
The destination of their protest march wasn’t chosen by chance: They’re set to head to Bastille plaza, the former home of a royal prison that rebels stormed on July 14, 1789, symbolically marking the beginning of the French Revolution.
Tensions already erupted Monday night on the eve of the holiday, as troublemakers set off firecrackers and set a bus, a gym and dozens of vehicles on fire in the Paris region, according to the fire service.
Tuesday’s annual fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower will be largely restricted to television viewers only, since City Hall is closing off the heart of Paris, including embankments of the Seine and other neighborhoods where crowds usually gather on Bastille Day.
France has one of the world’s highest virus death tolls, and scientists are warning of a potential resurgence as people abandon social distancing practices, hold dance parties and head off on summer vacations.