A roadside bomb which hit a bus in restive western Afghanistan on Tuesday killed at least eight people and wounded around 40, mostly women and children, officials said.
“It was a bomb planted by the Taliban to hit security forces but… it got a passenger bus,” Farah provincial police spokesman Muhibullah Muhib told AFP.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Taliban that they were responsible.
Afghanistan’s largest militant group is very active in the region and often uses improvised explosive devices against government officials and Afghan and foreign forces.
The bus began its journey in the western city of Herat and was headed for the Afghan capital.
The explosion happened as it travelled through Farah’s Bala Baluk district at 4:30 am, provincial governor’s spokesman Naser Mehri told AFP.
Around a dozen of the wounded — mostly members of the Hazara ethnic group who tend to follow Shiite Islam in the Sunni-dominated country — were taken to hospital in Herat.
Among them was Mohammad Zahir, 40, who had been travelling with his newly married daughter to visit relatives in Kabul.
“The bus was driving on the main road when I heard a big bang,” Zahir told AFP.
“When I woke up I found myself in the hospital. I still don’t know what’s happened to my daughter.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack.
“Harming civilians, especially scholars, children and women, is against the Ulema Council’s (Afghanistan’s top religious leaders) fatwa,” Ghani said in a statement, referring to the group’s proclamation in June that suicide attacks and explosions were “haram” or prohibited in Islam.
– Civilian deaths –
A photo posted on social media purportedly of the bus showed the vehicle’s blackened shell and dozens of men at the scene.
Some were peering inside while others were walking through the wreckage. A number of emergency vehicles could be seen.
Civilians have borne the brunt of the 17-year conflict and improvised explosive devices, such as remotely detonated or pressure-plate bombs, are one of the main cause of casualties.
Such IEDs caused 877 civilian casualties in the first half of 2018 — 232 deaths and 645 wounded — accounting for 17 percent of overall civilian casualties, the latest UN figures show.
A total of 1,692 civilians were killed in the conflict during the first six months of this year. Another 3,430 were wounded.
That was the highest number of civilian fatalities for the period since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began keeping records in 2009.
Militant attacks and suicide bombs were the leading causes of death.
The Taliban has a strong presence across western Afghanistan, particularly in Farah. It launched a major attempt to take over the provincial capital in May, triggering intense fighting with US and Afghan forces.
After a day-long battle the Taliban fighters were forced to the outskirts of the city.
Zabihullah Zemarai, a member of the provincial council, said there was first a car bombing — likely an explosion set off by a suicide car bomber — near the city’s provincial hospital and health department, followed by gunfire.
Attahullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the target appeared to be the provincial refugee and repatriation department, which is also located in the same area of the city.
He could not provide any detail on possible casualty figures as fighting was still underway at the department compound.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. In Nangarhar, both the Taliban insurgents and the Islamic State group have been active.
The Taliban also have a strong presence in Farah, especially in Bala Buluk where they often plant roadside bombs to target government officials or Afghan security forces. Such attacks often end up inflicting significant casualties among civilians.
Farah has seen heavy fighting in recent months, with local officials and tribal elders requesting additional government forces to support the overburdened army and police. In May, more than 300 Taliban launched a multi-pronged attack on the city of Farah, the provincial capital, before they were repelled. At least 25 government troops were killed in the fighting.
The latest report by the United Nations says the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan in the first half of this year increased by 1 percent, compared to the same period last year. The U.N. mission in Afghanistan said the number — 1,692 killed by violence — is the highest 6-month death toll since the systematic documentation of civilian casualties started in 2009.
Since the United States and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014, a resurgent Taliban have stepped up attacks across the country and an Islamic State affiliate has also emerged, staging high-profile attacks that have claimed scores of civilian lives.
On other developments on Tuesday, IS claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack in Nangarhar when a suicide car bomber killed tribal leader Haji Hayat Khan, the commander of a local militia battling both the Taliban and IS militants, and three others.
In a statement posted by the IS affiliate’s Aamaq news agency, the militants warned all those fighting against them would meet the same fate. (PTI)