The Islamic State took responsibility for the attack, which targeted people waiting for voter ID cards, raising concerns about the government's ability to register 14 million voters and conduct local and parliamentary elections in October.
KABUL, Afghanistan – At least 57 people waiting to obtain national voter ID cards died Sunday in a sidewalk suicide bombing in the Afghan capital, the Public Health Ministry said. Another 119 were reported wounded in the blast, which immediately raised questions about whether the government will be able to secure the registration and voting process.
The late-morning attack took place in the Dasht-i-Barchi neighborhood, which is dominated by minority Shiites from the Hazara ethnic group. It was claimed by the Islamic State, a radical Sunni militant group, which has previously targeted mosques, shrines, schools and other sites in the same area. Its affiliated website said the attack was aimed at “apostate” Shiites.
Officials did not say whether the bombing, by a pedestrian who detonated explosives amid the waiting crowd, would have any effect on hopes to register 14 million voters for local and parliamentary elections in October. They have previously said that out of 7,300 registration and polling centers nationwide, only 948 are considered out of government control.
Despite the deadly chaos of the bombing, which left women and children among the dead and sent ambulances racing to hospitals across the capital, residents in the area said they were determined to sign up and participate in the polls.
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Elections have been repeatedly delayed for the past three years because of political disputes, fears of insecurity and technical glitches. The enrollment for new ID cards, which began April 14, is the first step in the election process. All voters will be required to obtain new cards as a way of reducing fraud, which badly marred the past two national elections.
Mohammad Zia Feroz, 26, an employee of the Afghan Red Crescent, said that “Hazaras will never back off. Threats won’t stop us. There is no way other than taking part in elections.”
A small business owner named Hassan Ali Jafari, 45, echoed that determination, saying such attacks “cannot scare Hazaras. We will vote.” Jafari, who has two national ID cards, added, “I would use both to vote, if I could.”
President Ashraf Ghani, in a statement, called the attackers “savage terrorists” and said they would “never weaken the resolve and will of our people for wider participation in the democratic process.”
The Oct. 20 polls for 249 seats in the National Assembly and hundreds of local council slots are scheduled to be followed by presidential elections next year.
There have been several scattered attacks on registration offices and election officials in the past week, but Sunday’s bombing was by far the deadliest. Its toll of killed and wounded was the highest in the capital since a spate of violent bombings and assaults in January, including an ambulance bomb that killed more than 100 people and wounded 235.
After the explosion, TV footage showed scattered sandals and school notebooks amid body parts and lifeless forms on the bloodstained pavement outside the registration center. Witnesses said there were young students among the victims.
Manizha Ghazanfari, a teacher, said he was teaching when the explosion shook the area. “All the students fled the class screaming and crying,” he said. “I lost control of the class.”
On Sunday evening, dozens of police vehicles patrolled Dasht-i-Barchi and the surrounding area. Two other ID registration centers in southwest Kabul were shut down after the attack.
The number of people registering for the October elections so far has reportedly been less than expected, suggesting a lack of public interest because of fraudulent past elections and the failure of political leaders to deliver on their promises of service and security.
Sharif Hassan contributed to this report.