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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan leaders and security officials on Sunday expressed their resolve against a new possible enemy after the first major attack in Afghanistan claimed by the Islamic State group.

A motorcyclist carried out a suicide bombing at a busy section of the eastern capital of Jalalabad during the morning rush hour Saturday, killing 35 people and injuring more than 100. Government workers collecting their pay at a bank were apparently targeted, with children among the casualties.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Sediq Sediqqi was reluctant to confirm the Islamic State’s culpability on Sunday, pointing to an ongoing investigation.

"The Afghan security forces are working day and night to prevent these kinds of attacks," he said. "Every 24 hours we are making new arrests," he said.

He dismissed the idea that Afghanistan faces the same threat as Iraq now that the U.S. has drawn down its troops from the country, leaving behind only a residual force.

“Our country is different from Iraq. ISIS would not succeed here the same way the Taliban has not been able to succeed” he said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State. The Afghans will not allow any enemy to divide them.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani blamed the group during a televised address Saturday, giving credence to the Islamic State claim.

“Today the deadly attack in Nangarhar Province — who claimed responsibility?” he said. “Taliban did not claim responsibility, but Daesh claimed responsibility.”

Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

A self-appointed Islamic State spokesman claimed via text messages to news media Saturday that the militant group was responsible for the attack. The Taliban immediately denied responsibility and condemned it on social media.

Shahidullah Shahid, who identifies himself as the Islamic State spokesman for the region, was expelled from the Pakistani Taliban last fall after pledging allegiance to the militant group.

Some analysts and Afghan leaders have described apparent Islamic State activity in Afghanistan as a rebranding of the existing insurgency, rather than an influx of foreign fighters heeding a religious call.

“Such suicide attacks, killings, beheadings and terror happened before,” said Afghan parliamentarian Ali Akbar Qasimi, who heads parliament's defense commission. “They are the same people. The only thing is that they changed the cloth from white to black, and it means that they will continue what they want to do.”

But he expressed concern about the Islamic State group’s methods, which are extreme even by Taliban standards.

While the Taliban see themselves as Afghanistan’s legitimate government and tend to shy away from civilian domestic targets, the Islamic State has shown little reluctance in pursuing indiscriminate slaughter.

“For Afghans it is very important that they stay committed to their security forces” Qasimi said. “Because [the Islamic State] is a big demon and our country will have a very bad future if they remain active.”

sleiman.jad@stripes.com

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