Seven killed in Kabul suicide blast near clerics' gathering
At least seven people were killed in a suicide bombing Monday near a gathering of top clerics in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, roughly one hour after the group proclaimed such attacks a sin, police said.
The blast in the western part of the city, near universities and a police academy, is the latest demonstration of the militants' chilling ability to carry out attacks in the heart of Kabul, which is now the deadliest place in the country for civilians.
The bomber detonated at about 11.30 am (0700 GMT) at the gates of Kabul's Polytechnic University, police and officials said. The Loya Jirga tent where thousands of clerics from across Afghanistan were meeting is on the campus.
The tent is a huge venue often used for top religious or government gatherings. "Loya Jirga" means "grand assembly" in Pashto.
Most of the casualties were civilians.
"According to our initial information, seven people have been killed including a policeman. Nine others have been injured, including two policemen," police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai told media.
Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish confirmed it was a suicide attack, and said the bomber had been on foot when he detonated his explosives at the university gate.
Police spokesman Stanikzai said the blast was outside the tent.
No group has claimed the attack, but the Taliban issued a statement on Twitter saying its fighters had "nothing to do" with the bombing.
Both the Taliban and the Islamic State group have stepped up their headline-grabbing assaults on the heavily fortified capital in recent months.
Roads around the university were quickly blocked by security officials after the blast, with heavy traffic jams building in the city as many commuters headed home due to Ramadan, the holy Islamic fasting month, during which government offices close early.
Shortly after the first blast, a second explosion was heard, but police said it was a sticky bomb in a market several kilometres away which wounded an unspecified number of civilians.
- Civilians bearing the brunt -
Local media said thousands of clerics had gathered at the Loya Jirga tent for the meeting of the Ulema Council, Afghanistan's top religious leaders.
Roughly an hour before the attack, they issued a fatwa against the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have been fighting an insurgency against government forces for nearly 17 years, while other militant groups have also been carrying out attacks.
The Ulema Council -- seen by the militants as having some links to the government -- termed suicide attacks and explosions "haram", or prohibited in Islam. They have issued such fatwas in the past.
"Executing, financing and supporting such acts are against Sharia law," they said in a statement tweeted by the government.
Fighting in the name of jihad in Afghanistan, where the majority of the population is Muslim, has "no legitimacy" in Islam, they added, calling for peace talks.
"As the war in which tens of people die on a daily basis is prolonged... then both sides, the government and the Taliban, should come to the negotiation table and put an end to the calamity."
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in late February proposed peace talks with the Taliban. The group has not officially responded, but deadly attacks have proliferated since then, particularly in Kabul.
The capital accounted for 16 percent of all civilian casualties last year, when 1,831 civilians were killed or wounded nationwide, according to the United Nations.
The myriad attacks since 2017 included two of the deadliest in the city since the US invasion: a truck bomb on May 31, 2017 that killed more than 150 people, and an ambulance bomb on January 27 this year which killed more than 100.
The UN has warned that 2018 could be even deadlier.
Many fearful residents have restricted their movements as a result, afraid to linger in bazaars or to become trapped in traffic during rush hour, a prime time for attacks.