By Abdul Qadir Sediqi
KABUL (Reuters) – Rockets fired at a gathering of the Shi’ite Muslim Hazara minority in the Afghan capital Kabul killed three people and wounded dozens on Thursday in an attack claimed by Islamic State.
It was the first major attack in Kabul since January when a bomb-laden car exploded near a fortified compound and ended a period of relative calm in the city as Taliban insurgents and the United States negotiate a peace settlement.
Hazaras have been repeatedly attacked by Sunni Muslim militant groups such as the Taliban, al Qaeda and Islamic State over the years. IS claimed responsibility via its Amaq news agency, saying it had targeted the Shi’ite gathering.
TOLO News, which had a camera crew reporting live, said at least 10 explosions were heard at the event to commemorate a Hazara leader’s death.
“Our gathering is under attack. Rockets are being dropped on us from every direction,” said Muhammad Mohaqiq, a lawmaker and leader of the main Hazara political party from the stage in comments aired on television.
Hundreds of people including top government officials such as Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah and at least three candidates for a July presidential election were at the event.
People could be seen scattering in all directions as the rockets fell.
Three people were killed and 32 others injured, including two children, Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry said in a statement. Security forces killed two suspected attackers, while a third suspect was arrested, it said.
Presidential candidate Mohammad Hanif Atmar was unhurt, but eight of his security guards were wounded. They were in stable condition, said Atmar’s spokesman, Qader Shah.
The gathering was for the anniversary of the death of Abdul Ali Mazari, a Hazara leader who died in 1995 after being taken prisoner by the Taliban.
The attack came a day after a suicide bomb and gun attack on a construction company in the eastern city of Jalalabad that killed at least 16 people.
Islamic State also claimed responsibility for that attack.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Rupam Jain and Rod Nickel in Kabul; additional reporting by Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne)