At least 63 people have been killed in a suicide bomb attack at a crowded wedding party in Afghanistan’s capital, officials have said.
Another 182 civilians were wounded in the explosion on Saturday night, government spokesperson Feroz Bashari said, making it the deadliest attack in Kabul this year.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Nusrat Rahimi confirmed the increased death toll, which included children, as families began to bury the dead.
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The attack showed there was no sign of an end to years of violence in Afghanistan, even as the US and the Taliban have claimed they are nearing a deal on ending their 18-year war.
The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack and condemned it as “forbidden and unjustifiable”, leading some to suspect the involvement of the Islamic State group’s local affiliate in Afghanistan.
Ahmad Omid, who survived the blast, said about 1,200 guests had been invited to the wedding of his father’s cousin in a western Kabul neighbourhood that is home to many of the country’s minority Shiite Hazara community.
“I was with the groom in the other room when we heard the blast and then I couldn’t find anyone,” he said. “Everyone was lying all around the hall.”
The bomber reportedly detonated his explosives near a stage where musicians were playing.
“All the youths, children and all the people who were there were killed,” said Gul Mohammad, an eyewitness.
The attack, which occurred at a venue known as the Dubai City wedding hall, has come at an uncertain moment for Afghanistan, as the US and Taliban appear close to negotiating an end to the country’s long-running war.
Negotiations have been focused on a US troop withdrawal and guarantees that the Taliban will not let the country become a launching pad for global terror attacks.
However, many Afghans fear the violence will continue once troops leave the country.
The Afghan government has been side-lined from the negotiations because the Taliban have refused to work with an administration they view as a US puppet.
“Devastated by the news of a suicide attack inside a wedding hall in Kabul,” Sediq Seddiqi, a presidential spokesperson, said.
“A heinous crime against our people; how is it possible to train a human and ask him to go and blow himself [up] inside a wedding?!!”
The European Union mission to Afghanistan said the attack was “beyond condemnation”, while John Bass, the US Ambassador to the country, said it was “an act of extreme depravity.”
Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani pointed blame at the Taliban for the “inhumane” attack.
“Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists,” he said on Twitter.
Before Saturday’s blast, Kabul had seen a period of relative calm as many celebrated the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha this week and preparations have been underway for Aghanistan’s 100th Independent Day on Monday.
Earlier this month, on 7 August, a Taliban car bomb aimed at Afghan security forces detonated in the capital city, killing 14 people and wounding 145.
Agencies contributed to this report