At least 14 killed in suicide bombing at Afghan election rally
No claim of responsibility for the Nangarhar attack, but militants known to operate there
A suicide bomber struck an election rally in Afghanistan's eastern Nangarhar province on Tuesday, killing at least 14 people and wounding around 40, a provincial official said.
The attack, the first since campaigning began last week ahead of the elections for the lower house of parliament, underscored the widespread violence gripping the country 17 years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban.
The vote is scheduled for Oct. 20 but it's unclear if balloting will go ahead in areas controlled by the Taliban.
Tuesday's attack took place in Nangarhar's district of Kama as supporters of Abdul Naser Mohmand gathered in the afternoon to back his campaign as an independent candidate in the elections.
"Most of the people killed or wounded are elders who had gathered for the campaign rally," said Attahullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the provincial governor. He said some of the wounded were in critical condition, indicating the death toll could rise.
Late Tuesday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing, according to a statement on the group's Amaq news agency. The group has so far claimed a series of attacks this year that have killed scores of people in Nangarhar.
The UN mission to Afghanistan condemned the attack on the rally and expressed concern about violence related to the election campaign.
"I am outraged by attacks deliberately targeting civilians seeking to exercise their basic right to participate in elections," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN envoy to Afghanistan. "This violence, including today's reprehensible attack in Nangarhar, is an assault on the constitutional rights of the people of Afghanistan."
2 candidate kidnappings unresolved
The election campaign kicked off last Friday with 2,565 candidates vying for a seat in the 249-member chamber, including 417 women candidates.
In the run-up to campaigning, five candidates were killed in separate attacks, including two in Kabul and one each in Nangarhar, southern Kandahar and northern Parwan province.
Also, officials from the country's Independent Election Commission said two candidates were abducted and their fates remain unknown while three others were wounded in attacks.
Separately, Afghan security forces killed three bodyguards of an independent parliamentary candidate during a raid on a house near his residence in the eastern Kunar province on Sunday.
But the security challenges are not the only worries ahead of the elections. A number of political parties and opposition groups have expressed concerns over the transparency of the vote, leading to demands that a biometrics system be used to register voters — a first in Afghanistan's history.
Afghanistan's parliament includes both a lower and an upper house, but only members of the lower house are directly elected. The upper house consists of a mixture of parliamentarians chosen from local councils and those appointed by the president, as well as members elected in district elections.
In a separate attack on Tuesday, at least seven children, ages 10 to 14, were wounded when a bomb went off near a cricket pitch elsewhere in Nangarhar, Khogyani said.