A suicide bomber has killed 63 people and wounded 182 in an attack on a packed wedding reception in the Afghan capital, as violence shows no sign of easing despite hopes for a deal on a US troop withdrawal.
The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the suicide blast, saying on messaging platform Telegram its bomber had been able to infiltrate the reception and detonate his explosives in the crowd of “infidels”.
The Saturday night attack came as the Taliban and the United States try to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with Afghanistan’s US-backed government.
Islamic State (IS) fighters, who first appeared in Afghanistan in 2014 and have since made inroads in the east and north, are not involved in the talks. They are battling government and US-led international forces and the Taliban.
IS has claimed some of the most bloody attacks in Afghan cities over the past couple of years, with some aimed at the Shi’ite minority.
The Taliban earlier denied responsibility for the blast at a west Kabul wedding hall, in a minority Shi’ite neighbourhood, packed with people celebrating a marriage.
Women and children were among the casualties, interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said on Sunday.
The blast follows a bomb attack on a mosque in Pakistan on Friday that killed a brother of Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada.
No one claimed responsibility for that blast, which killed four people and wounded about 20.
Pictures posted on social media showed bodies strewn amid overturned table and chairs at the wedding hall, with dark blood stains on the carpet.
The bomber struck the men’s reception area, officials said.
“Everybody was running,” a waiter at the hall, Sayed Agha Shah, said after the blast.
“Several of our waiters were killed and wounded.”
Resident Mohammad Hasan rushed to the scene after the blast rocked the neighbourhood.
“I saw many women and children screaming and crying,” he said.
Wedding halls have become a big business in Kabul as the Afghan economy slowly picks up and families spend more on celebrations.
Big, brightly lit halls now line some suburban streets of the city.
At least 40 people were killed in an explosion at a wedding hall in Kabul in November.
Two Taliban spokesman issued statements to deny responsibility for the Saturday night blast.
Islamic State militants also operate in Afghanistan and have carried out bloody attacks in towns and cities, some aimed at members of the Shi’ite minority.
US President Donald Trump has made no secret of his desire for a US pullout from Afghanistan and an end to America’s longest war.
Top US national security advisers briefed Mr Trump on Friday on the negotiations.
There are deep concerns among Afghan officials and US national security aides about the talks with fears Afghanistan could plunge into a new civil war that could see a return of Taliban rule and international militants finding a sanctuary.
Some 14,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, training and advising Afghan security forces and conducting counterinsurgency operations.