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Afghans search for bodies after blast

China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-21 09:16

People attend the funeral and burial of the victims a day after an explosion at a mosque in Haska Mena district of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, on Saturday. GHULAMULLAH HABIBI/EPA

70 people killed during Friday prayers but no group claims responsibility

JALALABAD, Afghanistan - Police and villagers searched for the bodies of their loved ones on Saturday in the rubble of a mosque in eastern Afghanistan that collapsed in a blast during Friday prayers, killing 70 people including dozens of children, officials said.

The attack - the country's second most deadly this year - took place in Haska Mina district of eastern Nangarhar province and also wounded at least 36 people.

"We have reports that the death toll has reached 70 in yesterday's incident," the provincial governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said.

"We have sent assistance to the district that includes food and other items," he said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blast. A spokesman for the Islamist extremist Taliban said the group "condemned this atrocity in the strongest terms" and labeled it a "major crime".

The Islamic State group is also active in Nangarhar.

Witnesses said the roof of the mosque fell through after a "loud" explosion, the cause of which was still being investigated, Khogyani said.

At least 27 of the victims were schoolchildren, said Asif Shinwari, a spokesman for Nangarhar's education department.

"They were ninth-to tenth-graders. Sixteen schoolchildren were wounded," he told AFP, adding that children usually studied at the mosque after prayers.

Villagers from the surrounding Haskamena district said that there were more than 100 worshippers at the time of the bombing in the mosque.

Gulab Shinwari, a villager, said that when he reached the site of the blast with other locals, they found "a heartbreaking scene".

"We are still searching for bodies. Most of those who were killed were children or young boys under 18," resident Omar Ghorzang said.

Donya Gul, another local resident who lost a brother and eight cousins in the incident, said some people were still missing.

"They buried the bodies yesterday and they buried the bodies today. ... We are searching for at least five more people. We might only find the pieces of their bodies," he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "strongly" condemned the attack and said those responsible must be held accountable, his office's spokesman said.

The attack came just after a UN report said that Afghan civilians are dying in record numbers in the country's increasingly brutal war, saying an "unprecedented" number of civilians were killed or wounded in Afghanistan from July to September.

"Civilian casualties at record-high levels clearly show the need for all parties concerned to pay much more attention to protecting the civilian population, including through a review of conduct during combat operations," said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan.

The figures - 1,174 deaths and 3,139 injured from July 1 until Sept 30 - represent a 42 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

The UN laid most of the blame for the spike at the feet of "anti-government elements" such as the Taliban, who have been carrying out an insurgency in Afghanistan for more than 18 years.

The Taliban rejected the report.

In the wake of the incident, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday said in a statement, "The United States remains committed to peace and stability in Afghanistan, and will continue to fight against terrorism ... We stand by the people of Afghanistan who only want peace and a future free from these abhorrent acts of violence."



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