Just three days after a US-brokered deal helped relieve the impasse over Afghanistan’s contested presidential election, a suicide bombing in the country’s eastern province of Paktika killed at least 89 people on Tuesday, resulting in one of the highest civilian death tolls inflicted by a terror attack since the US-led invasion of the country in 2001.
A vehicle loaded with explosives was detonated in the morning as it drove through a crowded market near a religious school in the province’s Urgun District, producing an enormous blast that ripped through the area, leveling stalls and upending vehicles. Soldiers were seen unearthing bodies trapped in the wreckage as emergency workers rushed to clear dozens of injured locals. The number of people in need of urgent medical attention overwhelmed hospitals in the area.
Ministry of Defense officials and hospital personnel confirmed the death toll, which could still climb.
The Taliban quickly denied responsibility for the massacre, proclaiming in a statement that they “strongly condemn attacks on local people.” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid added that the group was investigating the incident. His group had claimed responsibility for an attack in Kabul that occurred just hours earlier when a roadside bomb struck a minivan carrying members of President Hamid Karzai’s media team, leaving two dead and five wounded.
The attack in Paktika took place near the border that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, where the Pakistani military has been engaged in an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign against the Islamic militant Haqqani Network.
In recent years, markets in Afghanistan have increasingly become targets of attacks during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Eid holidays that follow it. Tuesday’s attack came at a time when residents were shopping for the Iftar meal with which they would break their daily Ramadan fast at sundown.
In August 2012, communities in the north and southwest of the country were rocked by similar bombings at markets ahead of the Eid holiday that left 48 dead and 130 wounded in Nimroz and Kunduz provinces. Two months later, a bombing near a mosque in the northern province of Faryab killed 45 people and wounded at least 60.
Besides the Taliban bombing in Kabul, the bombing in Paktika also followed attacks on Tuesday in Afghanistan’s Khost Province in the east and Kandahar Province in the south.
Taliban insurgents assaulted a border police outpost in Khost near the border with Pakistan, killing seven police officers and six border guards. A district counterterrorism director was among the dead.
In the city of Kandahar, a bomb hidden within a parked motorcycle killed two police officers.
A United Nations report released earlier this month noted a 24 percent increase in civilian casualties this year compared to the first six months of 2013 — 1,564 civilians died and 3,289 were wounded between January and the end of June. The report cited suicide bombings and “complex attacks” as the third leading cause of civilian deaths and injuries, after ground battles and IEDs.
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