Afghan president blames IS for deadly bombing
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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has blamed the Islamic State (IS) group for a suicide bombing that killed at least 33 people outside a bank on Saturday in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
More than 125 people were also wounded in the attack in Jalalabad, the provincial capital, according to officials. The attacker detonated an explosive-laden motorcycle, targeting a crowd of both military personnel and civilians who were gathered outside the Kabul Bank branch in Jalalabad to receive their monthly salaries.
"In the horrific incident in Nangarhar (province), who took responsibility? The Taliban didn't claim responsibility. Daesh claimed responsibility for it", the Afghan president said, using the Arabic acronym for the jihadist group.
"If that is true, local experts say that this would be the biggest attack by IS in Afghanistan", said Taha Siddiqi, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Islamabad.
Ghani's government has repeatedly raised the ominous prospect of IS making inroads into Afghanistan, though the group that has captured swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq has never formally acknowledged having a presence in Afghanistan.
"Most of the leadership [of the Taliban] has disappeared or has not shown itself in the last many years, and because of that, a lot of analysts believe that the Afghan Taliban, the young ones, are now moving towards IS", added FRANCE 24’s Siddiqi.
Taliban insurgents, have meanwhile, denied responsibility. The militants, who were ousted from power by a US-led invasion in 2001, rarely claim attacks that kill large groups of civilians, saying their activities are restricted to foreign or Afghan military and government targets.
"The IS presence has never been confidently confirmed, and we still have to be cautious about claims made in the name of IS", Haroon Mir, a Kabul-based political analyst, told the AFP news agency.
The deadly bombing comes as Afghanistan braces for what is expected to be a bloody push by the Taliban at the start of the spring season.
"The announcement by the IS today is alarming, if verified, and would mean that Afghanistan should prepare for a bloody summer, maybe the bloodiest in the past 14 years", said Haroon Mir.
One civilian was also killed and two others wounded on Saturday in what appeared to be a remote-controlled car bomb attack in the Behsud district of Nangarhar province. Another blast was reported near a shrine in Jalalabad, but no one was hurt.
According to a recent UN report, the number of civilians killed and wounded in Afghanistan jumped 22 percent in 2014.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)