GHAZNI: At least 15 children were killed when a motorbike laden with explosives blew up near a religious gathering in eastern Afghanistan on Friday, officials said.
The children had gathered at a home in Ghazni province to recite verses of the Holy Quran, a regular activity on Friday, when the blast took place.
Violence has surged in Afghanistan in recent months despite the government and the Taliban launching peace talks to end the country’s grinding war.
“Unfortunately, as a result of this incident 15 people, all children, were martyred,” said Wahedullah Jumazada, spokesman for the province’s governor.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack and Jumazada said an investigation was underway into why children were targeted.
However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid sent a message to the media claiming that the explosion was caused by the remains of unexploded ordnance in the area, which the children had allegedly picked up and brought to the merchant.
Mujahid gave a lower death toll, saying 12 children were killed.
Ahmad Khan Seerat, spokesman for the provincial police force, confirmed the blast, which he described as a Taliban attack. He added that 20 others were wounded, including children.
Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian earlier said the group had gathered to recite Quranic verses in remote Gilan district, about 120 kilometres from Ghazni city, the provincial capital.
Taliban and government forces have regularly clashed in the province, where the insurgents control several areas. Thirty security personnel were killed last month when a suicide car bomber struck an army base near Ghazni city.
The government’s talks with the Taliban — which opened in September in the Qatari capital of Doha — are currently on a break until early January.
The country has witnessed an increase in fighting, with the Taliban accused of trying to get an upper hand in the talks through violence.
Afghan forces have also battled a number of attacks blamed on the militant Islamic State group in recent months.
Between January and September this year, more than 2,100 civilians were killed and more than 3,800 wounded in the violence, according to the UN mission in Afghanistan.
Outgoing US President Donald Trump has pushed to end America’s longest war, with Washington signing a deal with the Taliban early this year committing to pulling all of its troops from the country by May 2021.
The Taliban have primarily targeted government forces in rural areas since signing the deal, in which they pledged to hold talks with the Afghan administration. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has called for the next round of negotiations to be held in Kabul, saying it was inappropriate to meet in Doha’s “luxurious hotels”.
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2020