Faizabad: A motorcycle-riding suicide bomber attacked a bank branch today in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 35 people in a deadly attack the country's president said was claimed by the Islamic State group.
The attack marks a major escalation in the country's fight against an affiliate of the extremist group that now holds a third of Iraq and Syria in its self-declared caliphate.
It also comes as Afghan security forces fight against the Taliban after US and NATO forces ended their combat mission in the country at the start of the year, yet another challenge for the war-ravaged nation.
The attack in Jalalabad, capital of eastern Nangarhar province, targeted a crowd of soldiers and civilians gathered outside the bank to receive their monthly salaries.
The blast killed at least 35 people and wounded 125, said Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Hours after the attack, President Ashraf Ghani blamed the Islamic State group for the bombing.
“In the horrific incident in Nangarhar, who took responsibility? The Taliban didn't claim responsibility. Daesh claimed responsibility for it,” Ghani said, using an Arabic acronym for the group.
The Taliban denied it carried out in the attack and another elsewhere in the province that killed one civilian and wounded two.
“We condemn/deny involvement in both,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid tweeted.
Ghani warned before that the Islamic State group was starting to establish a presence in Afghanistan. He used his visit to the United States last month to reiterate his concerns that the extremist group was making inroads into Afghanistan.
“If we don't stand on the same line united, these people are going to destroy us,” he told 600 people gathered at the provincial government headquarters in Faizabad, the capital of northeastern Badakhshan province.
He called on the Taliban to join with the Kabul government, and said that any Taliban who switched allegiance to Islamic State group would earn the wrath of Afghanistan's religious leaders.
Ghani also blamed a recent attack on an army outpost, in which 18 soldiers were killed, eight of them beheaded, on “international terrorists.” The Taliban aren't known to carry out beheadings.
The United Nations' Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, on a visit to Afghanistan, called the attack a “war crime.”