A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a voter registration center in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday, killing at least 31 people and wounding more than 50, most of them waiting in line to receive identity cards, officials said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack on a project of key importance to the credibility of President Ashraf Ghani’s Western-backed government, which has pledged to hold parliamentary elections this year. The terrorist group said that it was targeting Shiite “apostates” the Associated Press reported.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said a bomber on foot approached the center where officials had been issuing identity cards as part of the registration process for voters for the election scheduled for October.
A spokesman for the ministry of public health said at least 31 people were confirmed dead and 54 wounded. The explosion destroyed cars and shattered windows in nearby buildings, leaving rubble strewn across the street.
It was the most serious attack in Kabul since about 100 people were killed in January by a bomb concealed in an ambulance.
After weeks of relative calm, the blast took place in Dasht-e Barchi, an area of western Kabul inhabited by many members of the mainly Shi’ite Hazara minority, which has been repeatedly hit by attacks claimed by Islamic State.
“There were women, children. Everyone had come to get their identity cards,” said Bashir Ahmad who had been nearby the blast, which occurred despite heightened security measures following the January attack.
Voter registration centers have been set up across Afghanistan ahead of long-delayed parliamentary and district council elections due to be held in October and there have been serious concerns that militants might attack them.
President Ghani has been under heavy pressure from his international partners to ensure the elections are held this year, ahead of a presidential election due in 2019 although there has been widespread scepticism that they will take place.
“They should be keeping the country safe, if they can’t, someone else should be in their place,” said Sajeda, who was wounded in the blast along with three other members of her family as they lined up for their cards.
Voter registration began this month but there have already been a number of attacks apparently aimed at disrupting the preparations.
Also on Sunday, a roadside bomb near a voter registration center in the northern city of Pul-i Khumri killed six members of a family and wounded three as they drove past the site although there was no indication the attacks were linked.
Unless the process of registering millions of voters, many of whom do not have national identity cards, can be completed before winter sets, the vote would almost certainly have to be postponed until next year.
According to U.N. figures, more than 750 people have been killed or maimed in suicide attacks and bombings by militant groups during the three months to March.
Acting U.S. Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said in a statement that he condemned the attack and extended his condolences to the families of the victims.
“This senseless violence targeting innocent civilians exercising their fundamental democratic rights exposes the savagery and inhumanity of terrorists,” Sullivan said in his statement.
The statement also said that the U.S. is committed to destroying ISIL.
Story by Reuters with information from the Associated Press and the U.S. State Department.