Kabul airport bombing: What we know

At least 175 people killed in bomb blast outside Kabul airport in attack claimed by ISIL affiliate.

Injured people being carried to a hospital as unspecified number of casualties reported after two explosions outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul [Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]
Injured people being carried to a hospital as unspecified number of casualties reported after two explosions outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul [Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

A suicide bomber attacked crowds of Afghans at Kabul’s airport, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover.

At least 175 people were killed and dozens of others were wounded in the blast on Thursday.

Here’s what we know so far:

What happened?

The Pentagon said on Friday it has determined that the attack at the Kabul airport involved only one location and not two as was previously reported.

The Pentagon said there was one ISIL-affiliated suicide bomber, who struck at the Abbey Gate, where desperate Afghans were crowding to try and enter Kabul airport grounds and where US troops were conducting security checks.

Major General Hank Taylor, the deputy director for regional operations on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told reporters on Friday that there was no second explosion near the Baron Hotel near the airport.

The bomber struck Afghans standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water.

The Taliban’s August 15 capture of Kabul triggered an exodus of foreign nationals and workers, along with Afghans who worked with foreign militaries and groups to flee to the airport.

Who is behind the attack?

The ISIL (ISIS) group, has claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s Amaq News Agency said on its Telegram channel.

The ISIL affiliate in Afghanistan, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), is opposed to Western nations as well as the Taliban, which recently took control of the country in a lightning blitz and condemned the attack.

ISKP members, with links to the group’s more well-known affiliate in Syria and Iraq, have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim minority, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants.

Volunteers and medical staff bring an injured man for treatment after two powerful explosions outside the airport in Kabul [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

Death toll

At least 175 people were killed in the explosion, Taliban sources told Al Jazeera. The death toll included 28 Taliban members.

The US military said 13 of its service members have been killed and 18 others were injured.

Does the attack come as a surprise?

Overnight on Wednesday, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from ISIL, which has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during its advance through Afghanistan.

Late Wednesday, the US embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, the UK and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport.

Western officials warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport, but that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the US officially ends its 20-year presence on August 31.

Evacuations

Amid the warnings and the pending American withdrawal, Canada ended its evacuations, and several European nations halted or prepared to stop their own operations.

But Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said some planes would continue to fly.

“Evacuation operations in Kabul will not be wrapping up in 36 hours. We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission,” he said in a tweet.

The Taliban have said they will allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the August 31 deadline next week, but it remains unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the group.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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