3 Kabul blasts kill at least 40, injure dozens at cultural center


KABUL, Afghanistan — A trio of back-to-back blasts killed about 40 people and wounded more than 80 at a Shiite cultural center in Kabul on Thursday.

Women and children were among the casualties of the attack on the Afghan capital’s west side, where an attacker wearing a suicide bomb vest blew himself up amid a gathering at the center, said Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry. Bombs placed in the area caused two more blasts, he said.

The Islamic State group affiliate in Afghanistan, in a statement on its Aamaq news agency, claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes days after a Christmas Day suicide bombing at the country’s main intelligence agency. The ISIS affiliate also claimed that earlier attack, which left six people dead and several wounded.

Thursday’s attack struck as students and others gathered for an academic discussion on the Soviet invasion, which began on Christmas Eve in 1979, as well as ceremony marking its 38th anniversary, said Hassan Mujtaba, an eyewitness.

“We were having the gathering in the basement,” he said in a phone interview. “There were many people, suddenly there was a big blast and after that I don’t know what happened.”

Known as the Tebyan Social and Cultural Center, the facility is located in a predominately Shiite neighborhood. Journalists at a nearby news agency were also among the casualties, Rahimi said. The center and news outlet are both owned by pro-Iran religious figure Sayed Eissa Hussaini Mazari.

Preliminary findings indicated many children were among the casualties, the U.N.’s Afghan mission said in a statement condemning the attack. The number of dead and wounded may rise, the U.N. said.

The U.S.-led NATO mission also condemned the attack, saying it would not deter Afghanistan’s cultural advancement and freedom of speech.

The ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan, known as ISIS-Khorasan province, or ISIS-K, has carried out several high-profile attacks on Shiite gatherings, including a dual suicide bombing that killed at least 80 and wounded more than 280 at a July 2016 demonstration organized by the country’s largely Shiite Hazara ethnic minority.

The U.S. had pledged this year to eliminate ISIS-K and has been backing Afghan forces battling the group mainly in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province along the Pakistan border, but the group has proven to be a stubborn enemy. An estimated 700 fighters belonged to the group in March, U.S. officials had said, but last month officials said they had killed 1,600 and estimated another 1,000 remained.

Also last month, Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said U.S. and Afghan special operations forces would soon “take the fight” to ISIS-K fighters who had established a foothold in the country’s northwest.

Twitter: @chadgarland

A distraught man is carried following a suicide attack at a Shiite Muslim cultural center in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017.

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