Attacks in Kabul and northern Afghanistan kill more than 20
Taliban claim responsibility for attack in north, ISIS affiliate says it carried out bombing in capital
An ISIS suicide bomber blew himself up at a police checkpoint near a gathering of the country's ethnic Hazaras in western Kabul on Friday, killing nine people and wounding 18, officials said.
In northern Afghanistan, the Taliban assaulted an army outpost overnight in an hours-long firefight, and ambushed policemen sent to help the troops, killing six soldiers and 10 members of the local police.
The attacks underscore the difficulties President Ashraf Ghani's government is facing as it battles a revamped Taliban insurgency and struggles to rein in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group, whose affiliate in Afghanistan has grown stronger since it emerged in 2014.
Kabul has recently seen a spate of large-scale militant attacks by the Taliban and also ISIS. In late January, a Taliban attacker drove an ambulance filled with explosives into the heart of the city, killing at least 103 people and wounding as many as 235.
In Friday's attack, Basir Mujahid, spokesperson for the Kabul police chief, said the bomber was on foot and was trying to make his way to a compound where the Hazaras had gathered to commemorate the 1995 death of their leader, Abdul Ali Mazari, who was killed by the Taliban.
Shortly after the attack, Ghani issued a statement condemning the bombing and promising that those behind it, if found and convicted, would be given the death penalty.
The attack was intended to frighten Afghans but the perpetrators would not succeed, he said.
"These people who do this are acting against humanity and against Islam," he said.
Claim of responsibility
ISIS's affiliate in Afghanistan, which is named the Khorasan Province, claimed responsibility in a posting on a website. The group said it targeted a gathering of Shia as they were commemorating the death of a "tyrant," an apparent reference to Mazari.
Local Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq told the gathering that the explosion was an attempt to terrorize Afghans. He blamed the Taliban and ISIS, both of which have targeted ethnic Hazaras in the past.
Most Hazaras are Shia Muslims, and Sunni militants consider all Shia heretics and urge followers to kill them.
The spokesperson for the Health Ministry, Wahid Majro, said several of the wounded were in critical condition and he feared the death toll could rise further.
The overnight Taliban assault in northern Takhar province took place in a remote region of the district of Khwaja Ghar. The insurgents launched a siege of an army outpost there, killing six soldiers and wounding five in a blistering, hours-long attack, Defence Ministry spokesperson Dawlat Waziri said.
The Taliban also ambushed members of the local police who were sent to assist the soldiers, killing 10 policemen and wounding nine, provincial police spokesman Khali Aseir said.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility late Thursday for the outpost assault and the police slayings. He claimed the Taliban had inflicted a far higher number of casualties but the insurgents often exaggerate their claims.
The report couldn't be independently confirmed because of the remoteness of the area.