Islamic State-inspired terrorists took responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 34 people over the weekend in Afghanistan. While the militants’ claims could not be independently verified, Saturday’s killings could mark the first time IS has conducted a mass casualty attack in the country.
The explosion occurred in the eastern city of Jalalabad, only about 50 miles from the border with Pakistan. According to the provincial police chief, a man detonated his explosives in front of a local bank where many civil servants and military members come to collect their salaries. However, all of the victims were civilians, with witnesses reporting that numerous children were among the dead.
Afghan security personnel watch a second explosion in Jalalabad. (Photo: AFP)
Local officials say another bomb that detonated about 200 feet down the road was likely planted to target emergency personnel responding to the first blast. Two motorcycle with explosives were also defused nearby a short time later.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, distanced his group from the violence, saying “It was an evil act. We strongly condemn it.” Following a backlash in recent years, the Taliban claims to have focused its attacks on foreigners and the Afghan military, not on civilians.
But the bombing establishes a worrying precedent of independently-minded terrorist groups carrying out attacks in the name of the Islamic State. Even if the perpetrators do not have formal links to the terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria, many younger fighters feel disillusioned with the Taliban’s hierarchy and gain inspiration from IS’s more successful media campaign and recent territorial advances.
Indeed, last year the spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban (PT), a group that has already been blamed for many bombing in the region, Shahidullah Shahid announced he was pledging allegiance to IS. As he left the PT, itself an umbrella group of various jihadist factions, he brought several other commanders with him. Following the Saturday’s attack, Shahid sent a statement to local reporters claiming that he is now the spokesman for IS in Afghanistan and congratulated the suicide bomber for his successful mission.