Dozens dead in bombing at Kabul voter registration centre

A suicide bomber has killed at least 57 people and wounded dozens outside a voter registration centre in Kabul, in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

The public health ministry spokesman Wahid Majro said another 54 people were wounded in Sunday’s attack. Gen Daud Amin, the Kabul police chief, said the suicide bomber targeted hundreds of civilians who were queuing to receive national identification cards to vote in legislative elections scheduled for 20 October.

“It happened at the entrance gate of the centre. It was a suicide attack,” Amin told AFP.

The large explosion echoed across the city, shattering windows miles away from the site of the attack in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood, where many of the country’s Shia Hazara minority live. Majro said there were five children among the dead.

“I was lined up with my family members to process the voting registration and suddenly saw a chaos after a huge blast,” Bilal Amiri told Guardian. “People were crying, some of the injured breath their last in front of me and I was helpless.”

Police blocked all roads to the blast site, with only ambulances allowed in. Local TV stations broadcast live footage of hundreds of distraught people gathered at nearby hospitals seeking word about loved ones.

Isis claimed responsibility in a statement carried by its Aamaq news agency, saying it had targeted Shia “apostates”. Isis is opposed to the country holding democratic elections.

“We’re fed up with this government to whom we ask for help,” Farooq Hussain said. “Our young generation and children are dying too early.”

Another witness to the attack, named Akbar, told Tolo TV: “Now we know the government cannot provide us security. We have to get armed and protect ourselves.”

Afghan security forces have struggled to prevent attacks by Isis as well as the more firmly established Taliban since the US and Nato concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014.

Both groups regularly launch attacks, with the Taliban usually targeting the government and security forces and Isis targeting the country’s Shia minority. They also want to establish a harsh form of Islamic rule in Afghanistan, and are opposed to democratic elections.

Recent attacks have underscored concerns about security in the run-up to legislative elections scheduled for 20 October, which are seen as a test run for next year’s presidential poll.

Over the next two months, authorities hope to register up to 14 million adults at more than 7,000 polling centres for the parliamentary and district council elections.

Officials have been pushing people to register amid fears a low turnout would undermine the credibility of the polls.

Last week, militants killed three police officers responsible for guarding voter registration centres in two Afghan provinces, according to authorities.

Meanwhile, at least five people were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the northern Baghlan province on Sunday. Zabihullah Shuja, spokesman for the provincial police chief, said four other people were wounded in the blast in Pul-e Khomri, the capital of the province.

The Taliban routinely target security forces and government officials with roadside bombs, which often end up killing civilians.

In the northern Balkh province, a district police chief died of his wounds after being shot on Saturday during a gun battle with insurgents, according to Sher Jan Durrani, spokesman for the provincial police chief. He said about a dozen insurgents were also killed in the battle, which is still going on.

Durrani identified the killed commander as Halim Khanjar, police chief for the Char Bolak district. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing.

The Afghan capital is also braced for the Taliban’s launch of its customary spring offensive.

The Taliban are under pressure to take up President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer made in February, but so far the group has given only a muted response.

Some western and Afghan officials expect 2018 to be a particularly bloody year.

Gen John Nicholson, the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, told Tolo TV last month that he expected the Taliban to carry out more suicide attacks this fighting season.