At least six people have been killed and 20 others wounded after a suicide bomber hit a protest site in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, officials said.
The blast on Monday took place close to the city’s Pashtunistan Square, where hundreds of people had been protesting over insecurity in the country.
Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the interior ministry, said: “The suicide attacker on foot wanted to target protesters, but he was stopped at a security checkpoint some 200 metres from the site.”
“There have been casualties and I can say most of them are security forces.”
Twenty people were wounded in the blast, which struck in front of a high school in downtown Kabul, according to Najib Danish, an interior ministry spokesman.
Videos posted on social media appeared to show bodies lying on the ground moments after the bombing, but could not be verified by Al Jazeera.
The explosion came as additional security was rolled out across Kabul for the protest, which began on Sunday night and continued into Monday.
Hundreds of members of the ethnic Shia-Hazara community had gathered to demand action against ongoing Taliban assaults in three districts of central Afghanistan. According to Danish, the rally had ended before the explosion.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack on its website, Amaq.
The group has claimed responsibility for most of the suicide attacks in Kabul in recent months.
Monday’s explosion is the latest in a series of attacks on civilians and security forces in the war-torn South Asian country.
Taliban fighters killed scores of security forces in the western province of Farah and the eastern province of Ghazni overnight on Monday.
Earlier, at least 37 local policemen were killed in Farah and 20 members of the Afghan security forces were killed in Ghazni’s Jaghuri district on Sunday.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the Ghazni attack and said in a text message that the armed group had captured Malistan district.
Fighting in the area has been ongoing since Wednesday, fanning fears that the violence could be rooted in ethnic or sectarian differences.
A US watchdog agency said last week that the Afghan government was struggling to regain control of districts lost to the Taliban while casualties among security forces had reached record levels.
The government has control or influence over 65 percent of the population, but only 55.5 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in a report.
The escalation in violence came as US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad returned to the region as part of efforts to persuade the Taliban to end the 17-year war.
Last week, Russia hosted a conference aimed at seeking peace attended by members of a government-appointed body for talks with the Taliban, its members based in Qatar and officials from 12 countries.
The meetings ended without the sides agreeing on a path to direct dialogue.