Asia-Pacific

'Nobody will vote': IS attack on Afghan election centre leaves 57 dead

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The assaults underscore growing concerns about security in the lead-up to legislative elections.

An IS suicide bomber killed at least 57 people including women and children and wounded dozens outside a voter registration centre in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday in the latest attack on election preparations.

Afghan shopkeeper Ali Rasuli was standing at the end of a long queue of people waiting to pick up their national ID certificates on Sunday when a fireball erupted in front of him.

The suicide bombing injured more than 100 people and briefly blinded Rasuli, leaving him with leg and abdominal injuries.

"I found myself covered in blood, with dead people - women and children - around me," 26-year-old Rasuli told AFP from his bed at Kabul's Isteqlal Hospital where around 50 of the wounded had been rushed for treatment.

The smell of blood permeated the hospital. In the morgue around a dozen bodies lay on the floor, including those of several children.

 

Blood-stained National ID papers and voters' photos are seen on the ground outside a voter registration center, after a suicide attack in Kabul, Sunday, April 22, 2018. (AP Photo/ Rahmat Gul)
Blood-stained National ID papers and voters' photos are seen on the ground outside the voter registration center.
AP

Around 40 other wounded were taken to a trauma centre run by Italian NGO Emergency. Hundreds of relatives stood outside on the street waiting for news. 

The government has been pushing people to register at more than 7,000 polling centres around the country as it seeks to hold credible and fraud-free elections.  

Ali Jan was one of them.

The 21-year-old student, who had planned to take part in his first-ever elections in October, tried to pick up his tazkira on Saturday but was turned away because officials had run out of paper.

He went back on Sunday in hopes of better luck but instead was caught up in the blast.

"They said the tazkira is needed to vote, but if they keep killing us how can we vote?" he told AFP from his hospital bed, his head bandaged.

Blood-stained national ID papers.
AAP

It was at least the third attack on a voter registration centre since April 14 when authorities began a two-month process to register up to 14 million adults ahead of long-delayed parliamentary and district council elections.

Outside Isteqlal Hospital grief mixed with anger among anxious relatives waiting for news of loved ones.

"Our patience is running out. This government should take responsibility for the lives of all these innocent people lost every day," a man called Hussain, whose cousin was wounded in the blast, told AFP.

"Nobody will go to vote anymore."

Women cry in a hospital after they lost their children in a deadly suicide attack on a voter registration center in Kabul.
AAP

The assaults underscore growing concerns about security in the lead-up to legislative elections scheduled for October 20, which are seen as a test-run for next year's presidential poll.

"It happened at the entrance gate of the centre. It was a suicide attack," Dawood Amin, Kabul police chief, told AFP.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group via its propaganda arm Amaq.

The centre in the heavily Shiite-populated neighbourhood in the west of the city was also being used by people to register for national identification certificates, which they need to sign up to vote.

Footage on Ariana TV showed pools of blood and shattered glass on the street.

Angry crowds shouted "Death to the government!" and "Death to the Taliban!" 

An Afghan police officer inspects the scene of the suicide bomb attack.
An Afghan police officer inspects the scene of the suicide bomb attack.
EPA via AAP

The Taliban have denied they were involved.

A wounded man in a hospital bed wept as he told Ariana TV: "I don't know where my daughters are. God damn the attackers!"

A 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."

The last major attack in Kabul was on March 21 when an IS suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd celebrating the Persian New Year holiday and killed at least 33 people.

"This senseless violence shows the cowardice and inhumanity of the enemies of democracy and peace in Afghanistan," US ambassador John Bass wrote on Twitter. NATO also condemned the bombing.

Voter registration centres have been set up across Afghanistan ahead of long-delayed parliamentary and district council elections due to be held in October and there have been serious concerns that militants might attack them.

President Ghani has been under heavy pressure from his international partners to ensure the elections are held this year, ahead of a presidential election due in 2019 although there has been widespread scepticism that they will take place.

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