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(Bev Schilling/Stars and Stripes)
(Bev Schilling/Stars and Stripes)
The Uranus Wedding Hall is shown on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in this file photo.
The Uranus Wedding Hall is shown on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in this file photo. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

KABUL, Afghanistan — A bomb blast killed dozens of people in Kabul on Tuesday at a gathering where hundreds of religious scholars came to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

At least 43 are dead and 83 more were wounded, Afghan Health Ministry spokesman Waheed Majroh said Tuesday night.

The attack occurred about 6:20 p.m. at the Uranus Wedding Hall, a complex that hosted both the gathering and a wedding, said Moula Mohammed Paiman, head of a union of wedding halls in Kabul.

A suicide bomber walked into the gathering and blew himself up during a reading of the Koran from beginning to end, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said.

The blast occurred about two miles away from the Kabul airport, where hundreds of U.S. troops are based on a NATO compound.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack and declared Wednesday a national day of mourning.

“The terrorists that have carried out this attack have committed an unforgivable crime,” Ghani said in a statement. “This criminal act is against Islamic laws.”

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

The local Islamic State affiliate previously attacked clerics in June that it regarded as siding with the U.S.-backed government in Kabul. More than 2,000 Afghan religious scholars issued a “fatwa,” or religious declaration, that “the ongoing war in Afghanistan is forbidden under the Islamic law.” That gathering of scholars, known as the Afghan Ulema Council, prompted an attack that killed at least seven clerics and injured at least 20 others.

The Taliban denied any involvement in that attack but also denounced the gathering.

Kabul has about 140 wedding halls, structures that are perhaps the most noticeable change to the landscapes of Kabul and other major Afghan cities since the 2001 U.S. invasion that removed the Taliban from power. Some 100,000 people in Kabul have jobs linked to these wedding halls, Paiman said last year.

The gathering Tuesday should have requested police protection but didn’t do so, police spokesman Basir Mujahid said. Wedding halls such as Uranus normally provide their own security.

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan extended his sympathy to the families of the victims Tuesday.

“Sickened and deeply saddened by tonight’s terror attack as the Ulema Council marked the Prophet’s Birthday,” Ambassador John Bass said on Twitter. “I extend our condolences to the families and followers of those killed and wounded.”

The suicide bombing came as the Afghan government continues to struggle to provide security in the face of attacks from the Taliban and other militant groups throughout the country. The Taliban controls or contests more territory than it has since the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

lawrence.jp@stripes.com Twitter: @jplawrence3

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