Afghan bomber kills 18, Taliban rejects ceasefire extension

A bomb blast has killed at least 18 people in Jalalabad, the second such attack in as many days in Afghanistan.

Blast targeted participants of meeting between Taliban militants and governor of Nangarhar province

An injured man is carried to a hospital after Sunday's car bomb explosion in Jalalabad. (Parwiz/Reuters)

A suicide bomber struck in Afghanistan's eastern city of Jalalabad on Sunday, killing at least 18 people in the second attack in as many days targeting Taliban fighters, security forces and civilians celebrating a holiday ceasefire. The Taliban later rejected an extension to the ceasefire.

Najibullah Kamawal, director of the provincial health department, said another 49 people were wounded in the attack, which struck a crowd of people as they left the governor's compound for Nangarhar province.

Saturday's attack, which also took place in Jalalabad, killed at least 36 people and wounded 65, according to Kamawal.

No one has claimed the attacks, but they appear to be the work of the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is not included in the ceasefire and has clashed with the Taliban in the past. The local ISIS affiliate has a strong presence in the province.

Afghan security officials inspect the scene of the suicide bombing that targeted people leaving a meeting at the governor's office to discuss a ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban. (Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA-EFE)

The bomber on Saturday targeted a gathering of Taliban fighters who were celebrating a three-day truce coinciding with the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

After the attack, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a nine-day extension of the ceasefire.

The chairman of the High Peace Council, a government body charged with negotiating an end to the nearly 17-year war, called on the Taliban to accept the extended ceasefire and join the peace process.

"We hope that the extension of the ceasefire will be announced by the leadership of the Taliban," Mohammad Karim Khalili told a press conference in the capital, Kabul. He said there had been an "exchange of views" between the government and the Taliban over the past week, without elaborating.

Ceasefire only for Eid holiday

But on Sunday the Taliban announced that their ceasefire had ended and they have no intention of extending it. "The ceasefire was announced by the Taliban for just the three days of the Eid holiday which have come to an end this Sunday evening," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement. "All Mujahidin [Taliban] should continue their operations against foreign invaders and their puppets,"

The Taliban's statement added that their ceasefire was to allow their fighters to celebrate the holiday peacefully and not in response to the government's ceasefire announcement.

The Taliban have steadily expanded their presence in recent years, seizing a number of districts across the country and carrying out near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces. But over the past two days Taliban fighters could be seen celebrating the truce alongside Afghan troops and other people in a number of locations.

Taliban leaders have at different times expressed interest in holding peace talks to end the conflict. But they have refused to meet with the U.S.-backed government, saying they will only negotiate with the United States directly. They have also demanded the withdrawal of all foreign forces.