At least 40 people have been killed and dozens wounded in a blast in Kabul at a compound comprising a news agency, Shia cultural centre and religious school, the interior ministry has said.
The explosion early on Thursday struck an area close to the Afghan Voice news agency and Tebyan cultural centre, local media reported.
People gathered at Tebyan were marking the 38th anniversary of the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan.
Women and children were among those killed. The majority of victims were visitors to the centre.
“A suicide bomber detonated explosives near a cultural house belonging to Shia Afghans,” said Al Jazeera’s Abdullah Shahood, reporting from Kabul. “People in critical condition are being taken to hospital where there are chaotic scenes.
“Afghans are rushing to hospitals to donate blood.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack on its Amaq website, but provided no evidence of its claim.
Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, called the attack a “crime against humanity”.
In a statement, he said: “The terrorists have attacked our mosques, our holy places and now our cultural centre.”
Mushtaq Rahim, a regional security expert, told Al Jazeera from Kabul that there were several members of the Afghan Shia community in the area.
“They [Afghan Shia] have been targeted in Afghanistan throughout 2017,” he said.
The fact a media outlet was among the targets was also important, Rahim said, because ISIL was seeking more coverage.
“Previously, they [ISIL] have attacked religious gatherings,” he told Al Jazeera. “The media has not provided them with the coverage they desire.”
ISIL, which has a presence in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, regularly targets Shia Muslims.
Afghan security forces stand guard near the site of the blasts [Shah Marai/AFP]
Images posted to social media showed the aftermath of the blast, with the neighbouring Afghan Voice office ripped apart by the force of the explosion.
Other photos showed pictures of dead bodies strewn across the ground in an outside area.
Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC) condemned the attack “in the strongest terms possible”, writing on Twitter.
The group said it was heading to the scene to assist the aid efforts.
String of attacks
Amnesty International’s South Asia director Biraj Patnaik said Thursday’s attack was a reminder of the country’s security woes.
“This gruesome attack underscores the dangers faced by Afghan civilians. In one of the deadliest years on record, journalists and other civilians continue to be ruthlessly targeted by armed groups,” he said.
“With the Afghan capital hit once again, no one can credibly claim that Kabul safe. The European governments who insist on this dangerous fiction by forcibly returning Afghans are putting their lives in danger.”
AJSC recently reported a surge in attacks against journalists, with at least 73 cases recorded in 2017, an increase of 35 percent compared with 2016.
In May, ISIL claimed an attack targetting an Afghan state television building in Jalalabad that killed six people.
In November, at least one security guard was killed as ISIL fighters stormed Shamshad TV, a private television station.
Earlier, in January 2016, after threats from the Taliban, a minibus carrying TOLOnews employees was bombed, killing seven people during the evening rush hour.
An Afghan man runs away in the aftermath of a blast at the cultural centre in Kabul [Shah Marai/AFP]
More broadly, the Afghan capital has come under attack several times in 2017.
On March 8, more than 30 people were killed when gunmen dressed in white lab coats stormed a hospital in the centre of the city. ISIL claimed responsibility for that attack, but officials considered other groups could have been responsible.
On May 31, a truck bomb exploded near the diplomatic district, killing more than 150 people. It remains unclear who was behind the assault.
On October 21, ISIL claimed responsibility for killing at least 39 people at a Shia mosque in Kabul.
The Afghan Shia minority has come under attack several times in 2017 [Shah Marai/AFP] [SOURCE: Al Jazeera News]