By Abdul Qadir Sediqi
KABUL (Reuters) – A suicide attack at a wrestling club in a Shi’ite neighbourhood of the Afghan capital Kabul and a second explosion apparently targeting emergency services and journalists at the site killed at least 20 people and wounded 70 on Wednesday, officials said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in Dasht-e-Barchi, home to many members of the mainly Shi’ite Muslim Hazara ethnic minority which has been targeted repeatedly in the past by the militant Sunni group. The Taliban denied any involvement.
Prior to Wednesday’s attack, the area had seen a series of similar incidents, most recently last month, when dozens of students preparing for a university entrance examination were killed at an educational centre.
As police and bystanders, some still wearing their torn wrestling kit, helped the wounded onto vehicles to be taken to hospital, the second explosion hit, catching journalists covering the attack for local television stations.
The second blast came from a car parked outside the club where the suicide attacker had struck, killing a reporter and a cameraman from local broadcaster Tolo News minutes after they had made a live report from the scene.
Four other local television crew were wounded.
After nine journalists died in a single incident in April, when a suicide bomber apparently targeted them while they were covering another attack in Kabul, at least 14 journalists have now been killed in Afghanistan so far this year.
Wednesday’s attack underlined the danger in Kabul as elections approach next month, as well as the threat facing the Hazaras, a Persian-speaking minority that has long faced discrimination and which has borne the brunt of attacks claimed by Islamic State in Kabul.
The explosion came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Washington’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, would be appointed as an adviser to help with efforts to end the conflict.
Hopes of possible peace talks with the Taliban were fuelled by a brief ceasefire in June, although intense fighting in the months since, in particular the Taliban’s assault on the central city of Ghazni, have dampened optimism.
In any case, any talks would not include the local affiliate of Islamic State, which has established a brutal reputation and which both the Western-backed government and the Taliban consider an enemy.
(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelaty in CAIRO; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Janet Lawrence and Alison Williams)