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Afghan ISIS affiliate claims responsibility for attack that kills 32 at memorial service

Gunmen opened fire Friday at a ceremony in Afghanistan's capital attended by prominent political leaders, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens more before the two attackers were slain by police, officials said.

Abdullah Abdullah, who has contested last 2 presidential elections, was at the event but unharmed

An injured man is carried into an ambulance after the attack in the predominantly Shia neighbourhood in Kabul. Gunmen in Kabul attacked a remembrance ceremony for a minority Shia leader on Friday, leading to an hours-long siege. (Tamana Sarwary/The Associated Press)

Gunmen opened fire Friday at a ceremony in Afghanistan's capital attended by prominent political leaders, killing at least 32 people and wounding dozens more before the two attackers were slain by police, officials said.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group claimed responsibility for the attack on its website. Afghanistan's upstart ISIS affiliate has declared war on the country's minority Shias. Many of those at the ceremony were Shias, as it was to commemorate the 1995 slaying of Abdul Ali Mazari, the leader of Afghanistan's ethnic Hazaras, who are mostly Shia.

The Taliban said they were not involved in the attack, which came less than a week after the U.S. and the group signed an ambitious peace deal that lays out a path for the withdrawal of American forces from the country.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Nasrat Rahimi said 32 people were killed and 81 wounded in the attack in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul. The Health Ministry also reported 32 people were killed but said 58 were wounded.

Opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah, who is the country's chief executive and was defeated in last year's presidential election — a result he has contested — was among several prominent political officials who attended the ceremony but left before the attack and were unhurt.

Hours-long standoff

Friday's ceremony was held in the mostly Shia neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi of the capital.

Several TV journalists were covering the ceremony inside a walled compound when the gunmen began shooting, and a reporter and a cameraman for a local broadcaster were among the wounded.

British soldiers with the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission forces check an ambulance at the site of the attack in Kabul. An Afghan official says gunmen in Afghanistan’s capital attacked a remembrance ceremony for a minority Shia leader. (Rahmat Gul/The Associated Press)

Karim Khalili, the chief of Afghanistan's high peace council, was delivering a speech when the gunfire interrupted him. He was not hurt and later went on TV to denounce the violence.

Several witnesses said that, amid the panic, members of the security forces guarding the event had fired at civilians in the crowd.

"Individuals with military uniforms who were there targeted people, there were casualties, dead and wounded," said witness Ghulam Mohammad, according to Associated Press video.

Another survivor, Noor Mohammad, told AP that: "Everyone was running. Three casualties were on the ground in front of me. I ran out of there to save my life."

After opening fire, the two gunmen holed up in a half-finished apartment building, leading to a five-hour standoff with security forces. The gunmen were eventually killed and security forces were clearing the building, Interior Ministry spokesperson Nasrat Rahimi said. The area was cordoned off by dozens of security forces.

All of the casualties were civilians, Rahimi said.

The attack came just days after the United States and the Taliban signed an ambitious peace deal that lays out a conditions-based path to the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.  

Any U.S. troop pullout from Afghanistan would be tied in part to promises by the Taliban to fight terrorism and ISIS. During the withdrawal, the U.S. would retain the right to continue its counterterrorism operations in the country.

The Taliban have been fighting Islamic State militants in its headquarters in eastern Afghanistan. U.S. military officials have said ISIS has been degraded because of U.S. and Afghan operations but also by Taliban assaults.

The memorial marked 25 years since the death of Mazari. He was killed in 1995 by the Taliban as they moved to take control of Kabul, which had been destroyed by a brutal civil war among mujahedeen groups, including Mazari's.

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