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.