The death toll in the suicide attack inside a Kabul banquet hall hosting a gathering of religious scholars has gone up to 55, with authorities saying another 94 were wounded.
Tuesday’s attack at the Uranus Wedding Palace, where people gathered to celebrate Prophet Mohammad’s birthday, was one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan this year.
It drew widespread condemnation in the country and abroad, with the United Nations describing it as an “atrocity”.
On Wednesday morning, cleaners worked in the cavernous room where the massacre happened, clearing bloodied turbans, sandals, overturned chairs and broken glass that still littered the floor.
“It was absolute horror, people dead and wounded, covered in blood and pieces of flesh,” Ahmed Fareed, 40, told AFP news agency as he lay in a hospital bed with leg and shoulder injuries.
“My friend and his little son were also next to me, covered in blood and not moving.”
Scattered around Fareed were the bloodied bodies of men who had taken the full force of the suicide blast and probably saved his life.
President Ashraf Ghani declared Wednesday a national day of mourning for the victims of the attack, which he described as an “unforgivable crime”.
Organisers of the event told Al Jazeera that two religious events were taking place on different floors inside the hall, adding that around 2,000 people were present when the blast happened.
There was shock and horror across Afghanistan in the aftermath as it was revealed that most of the victims were young students who had gathered from across the country.
Citizens and senior officials also criticised the government for failing to provide adequate security.
This time they targeted our religious figures. It is so brutal and barbaric
“The government is responsible for securing these gatherings and ensuring the public’s safety,” former governor of the Balkh province, Atta Muhammad Noor, said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, the government’s weaknesses take more victims from us each passing day.”
According to a survivor, Obaidullah, security at the wedding hall included a body search by an armed guard followed by physical checks by several religious students, AFP reported.
“We see attacks on students, mosques, sport clubs and other civilian places,” said Ali Mashal, an Afghan student told Al Jazeera. “This time they targeted our religious figures. It is so brutal and barbaric.”
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah pointed the finger of blame at the Taliban.
“Whether they deny it or they don’t, they have created that sort of an environment, they are responsible for the violence,” Abdullah told AFP in an interview in Paris.
The Taliban condemned the attack in a WhatsApp message.
With additional reporting by Freshta Farhang in Kabul