Scores killed as militants attack Kabul commemoration ceremony
An attack on a remembrance ceremony in Kabul on Friday has left scores of casualties, in what appeared to be the first violence to hit the Afghan capital since the US signed a withdrawal deal with the Taliban.
At least 27 people were killed in the attack, including women and children, the interior ministry confirmed on Friday.
The Taliban immediately denied responsibility for the assault, which occurred at the commemoration ceremony for Abdul Ali Mazari - a politician from the Shia-majority Hazara ethnic group, and former leader of the Hezb-e Wahdat party.
The Chief Executive of Afghanistan’s government, Abdullah Abdullah, was in attendance but managed to escape unharmed, according to his spokesman.
"The attack started with a boom, apparently a rocket landed in the area, Abdullah and some other politicians .. escaped the attack unhurt," Abdullah's spokesman Fraidoon Kwazoon told Reuters.
Foreign forces arrived at the scene, and sporadic gunfire continued to be heard hours after the attack, according to Tolo News.
Last year, an Islamic State- linked group claimed a mortar attack on a ceremony commemorating the same event, which killed 11 people.
Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said gunfire had erupted from a construction site near the ceremony, which was held in western Kabul, which is largely Shia.
"Soon after the attack, police forces and police special forces units rushed to the scene," Rahimi told a local news station, noting that sporadic gunfire was ongoing.
Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq told Tolo News: "We left the ceremony following the gunfire, and a number of people were wounded, but I do not have any reports of martyred people for now."
The interior ministry later confirmed to reporters that "all the high-ranking officials were safely evacuated from the scene".
The incident comes less than a week after the US and Taliban signed a deal to pave the way for the complete withdrawal of foreign troops in 14 months.
However, fighting has continued to rage across the country, casting a pall over hopes that the agreement would lead to a reduction in violence.
IS, which claims to follow the Sunni branch of Islam, first became active in Afghanistan in 2015 and for years held territory in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
It has claimed responsibility for a string of horrific bombings, including several in Kabul targeting the city's Shia community.
In recent months the group has been hit by mounting setbacks after being hunted for years by US and Afghan forces along with multiple Taliban offensives targeting their fighters.
However, IS remains active in Afghanistan, notably in eastern Kunar province near the Pakistan border, which also neighbours Nangarhar, as well as in Kabul.
Agencies contributed to this report.