Suicide bombing at Kabul religious gathering kills dozens

Attacker detonates explosives at wedding hall where hundreds of religious figures marked Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a day of mourning following the explosion in Kabul [Rahmat Gul)/AP]
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a day of mourning following the explosion in Kabul [Rahmat Gul)/AP]

    Dozens of people have been killed in a powerful suicide bomb blast that targeted a large gathering of top religious figures in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, according to officials.

    Wahid Majroh, health ministry spokesperson, said Tuesday's explosion killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 70 others.  

    He added that the death toll could rise further as many of those injured were in critical condition.

    Najib Danish, interior ministry spokesperson, said "a suicide bomber detonated his explosives" inside a large wedding hall where hundreds of scholars and clerics had gathered to mark the birthday of Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

    "I heard the explosion, I just managed to take my cousin out of there who was seriously wounded," Ahmad Fahim said lying in a hospital bed. "But when I got here, I realised that I was wounded as well."

    Religious studies lecturer Mohammad Hanif said verses of the Quran were being recited when there was a deafening explosion followed by "chaos" inside the packed hall.

    "More than 60 or 70 people were martyred," Hanif, 31, told the AFP news agency outside a trauma facility run by Italian NGO Emergency. He escaped unhurt.

    "They suffered burns, everyone in the halls was screaming for help."

    A manager of Uranus Wedding Palace, which also hosts political and religious functions, told AFP a suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of the gathering of religious scholars. 

    "There are a lot of casualties - I myself have counted 30 casualties," he added, on the condition of anonymity.

    Officials at Kabul's Emergency Hospital said 30 ambulances had rushed to the blast site and more than 40 people were critically wounded.

    Day of mourning

    Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani strongly condemned the attack and declared Wednesday a day of national mourning, his spokesperson, Haroon Chakhansuri, wrote on Twitter.

    There was no immediate claim of responsibility. The Taliban condemned the attack in a WhatsApp message.

    Both the Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group have stepped up attacks on Kabul.

    In June, a suicide attack targeting Muslim scholars who had gathered in a tent near Kabul's Polytechnic University killed at least seven people.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies