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At Least Three Killed, Presidential Candidate, Bodyguards Injured In Kabul Mortar Attack

Policemen keep watch near the side of an attack in Kabul on March 7.
Policemen keep watch near the side of an attack in Kabul on March 7.

KABUL -- An Afghan presidential candidate and eight bodyguards of a rival candidate have been injured by a barrage of mortars that exploded in western Kabul, near a ceremony honoring a prominent Shi'ite leader who was killed by the Taliban more than 20 years ago.

Amid conflicting reports about the overall death toll, RFE/RL has confirmed that at least three people were killed in the March 7 attack, which was claimed by the extremist group Islamic State (IS), according to its Amaq news agency mouthpiece.

A large number of Afghan officials and political figures from all of Afghanistan's main ethnic groups were attending the ceremony in Kabul's predominantly ethnic Hazara neighborhood of Dasht-e Barchi to commemorate the 1995 death of Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari when mortar shells began exploding nearby.

They included Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, former President Hamid Karzai, presidential candidate and former national-security adviser Hanif Atmar, presidential candidate Latif Pedram, and Mohammad Mohaqiq, the Hazara leader of the Hezb-i Wahadat party.

Pedram, an ethnic Tajik from the northeastern province of Badakhshan who heads the National Congress party, announced on his Facebook page that he sustained minor injuries from the mortar barrage.

Qadir Shah, a spokesman for Atmar, told RFE/RL that eight of Atmar's bodyguards were also injured.

RFE/R's correspondent at the commemoration ceremony reported that Abdullah had just finished giving a speech honoring the late Mazari when mortar shells started exploding outside of the event.

Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik politician from northern Afghanistan and a leading candidate in the July 20 presidential election, was not injured.

Esteqlal Hospital director Hududullah Nori told RFE/RL that the bodies of three people killed in the attack and 17 injured people were brought to the Kabul facility.

Health Ministry official Mohaibullah Zaeer said an initial check of all Kabul hospitals revealed that at least three people were killed and 32 wounded. Zaeer said those casualty figures were not final.

Earlier, another official who was at the ceremony said seven people were killed.

Health Ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said at least three children were among the injured.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nusrat Rahimi told RFE/RL that government security forces had located and surrounded a walled compound in northeastern Kabul from where suspected militants launched the mortars.

"We have found the area from where the mortars were fired," Rahimi said. "They were launched from Kabul's northeastern police district 18. So we have identified the area and surrounded the people who were firing the mortars."

Meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister Khoshal Sadat wrote on Twitter that one person involved in the attack had been arrested by the early afternoon on March 7.

On March 6, the IS group also claimed responsibility for an attack on a construction company in the eastern city of Jalalabad that killed at least 17 people and triggered an hours-long gunbattle with security forces.

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