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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

At least 14 dead in suicide attack outside Kabul wedding hall

Supporters of Atta Mohammad Noor, the powerful governor of the northern province of Balkh and a vocal critic of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, had been holding an event inside the hall at the time of the blast

Afghan policemen on alert at the site of a suicide attack outside a wedding hall in Kabul on November 16, 2017. Shah Marai / AFP
Afghan policemen on alert at the site of a suicide attack outside a wedding hall in Kabul on November 16, 2017. Shah Marai / AFP

At least 14 people were killed when a suicide attacker blew himself up outside a wedding hall in Kabul on Thursday, in an apparent attempt to target a political gathering under way inside.

ISIL claimed responsibility for the bombing, the latest to hit the war-weary Afghan capital where insurgents have been stepping up assaults in a show of deadly force. The Taliban were quick to deny that they were behind the attack.

Supporters of Atta Mohammad Noor, the powerful governor of the northern province of Balkh and a critic of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, had been holding an event inside the hall at the time of the blast.

Mr Noor was not at the event, one of his aides said.

Mr Ghani condemned the attack as a "criminal act".

The bomber tried to enter the building but was stopped at the security checkpoint where he detonated his device, said Kabul police spokesman Abdul Basir Mujahid.

"A number of our police personnel are among the casualties," Mr Mujahid said.

"As a result of today's suicide attack eight police and six civilians have been killed while a further 18 have been wounded."

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Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, told a conference in Turkmenistan on Wednesday that the UAE was committed to the security and stability of Afghanistan.

''The UAE has extended assistance worth US$1.67 billion (Dh6.1bn) to help Afghanistan recover from long years of disasters and catastrophes. The assistance covered 16 humanitarian developmental sectors including infrastructure, reconstruction and economic recovery,'' he told the seventh Regional Economic Conference on Afghanistan.

Dr Gargash highlighted the UAE's role in training Afghan mosque imams in the values and principles of moderate Islam, peace and coexistence.

Earlier on Thursday, Afghan interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish had put the death toll at nine, including seven policemen and two civilians.

"The bomber detonated himself after he was identified by the police at the entrance gate," Mr Danish said.

"After lunch, as we were exiting, a huge explosion shook the hall, shattering glass and causing chaos and panic," said Harun Mutaref.

"I saw many bodies, including police and civilians, lying in blood."

Dozens of police and intelligence officers swarmed the area and blocked access to the public.

Mr Noor, a senior leader of the Tajik-dominated Jamiat-e Islami party, has been an outspoken critic of Mr Ghani and the National Unity Government.

It is not the first time that top officials in the Jamiat-e Islami party have been targeted by attackers.

Foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani, who heads Jamiat, survived an attack at a funeral in Kabul in June where suicide bombers tore through a row of mourners. Chief executive Abdullah Abdullah also escaped unharmed.

Political infighting has been intensifying ahead of next year's long-delayed district and parliamentary elections, which would pave the way for the 2019 presidential ballot.

Mr Noor has hinted that he may run for the country's highest office.

On Wednesday, Mr Ghani — who is a Pashtun, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan — sacked the independent election commission chief Najibullah Ahmadzai after technical and political bungling, fuelling speculation the vote will not go ahead.

It came after the recent firing of education minister Asadullah Hanafi Balkhi, who was considered a close ally of Mr Noor, and one of Mr Ghani's advisers, Ahmadullah Alizai.

Mr Noor has recently called for the return of vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful ethnic Uzbek warlord who fled to Turkey in May after he was accused of raping and torturing a political rival in 2016.

Earlier this year, Mr Noor met deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq, a senior figure in the mainly Shiite Hazara ethnic community, and Mr Dostum in Turkey to form the self-proclaimed Coalition for the Salvation of Afghanistan.

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