Activists stormed a maternity hospital in western Kabul on Tuesday (local time), sparking a multi-hour shootout with police and killing 14 people, including two newborn babies, their mothers and an unknown number of nurses , said Afghan officials. .
While the battle was ongoing, Afghan security forces struggled to evacuate the facility, carrying unrestrained babies and young mothers, according to images shared by the Interior Ministry.
But the spasm of violence of the day extended beyond Kabul. A suicide bomber in eastern Nangarhar province – home of the Islamic State group – targeted a funeral, killing 24 and injuring 68. And in eastern Khost province, a bomb placed in a cart in a market killed a child and injured 10 people.
Violence could further undermine peace process following an agreement signed between the United States and the Taliban in February, which provides for the start of talks between key Afghan figures, including government officials, and the Taliban .
The relentless and near-daily attacks have also left Afghan authorities ill-prepared to deal with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 4,900 people in the country and killed at least 127.
Shortly after the start of the attack on Kabul, black smoke rose in the sky above the hospital in Dashti Barchi, a predominantly Shia neighborhood which was the site of numerous past attacks by militants from the Islamic State. Interior Ministry spokesman Tareq Arian said more than 100 women and babies had been evacuated from the building before it was completed.
Arian said 15 others, including women, men and children, were injured in the attack. Three foreign nationals were among those safely evacuated, he said, without giving further details. It is unclear why the maternity unit of Dashti Barchi, a 100-bed facility, was targeted – an attack that Arian described as “an act against humanity and a war crime”.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the Kabul attack, where both the Taliban and IS frequently attacked the Afghan military and security forces, as well as civilians. The Taliban have denied being involved.
Photos shared by the Interior Ministry during the attack on Kabul show newborn babies and their mothers transported from the hospital by Afghan security forces.
“The forces are trying to eliminate the terrorists and keep the situation under control,” said Arian as the battle continued.
In the middle of the afternoon, the ministry issued a statement saying that three attackers had stormed the hospital and that one was shot and killed while the other two still resisted the arrest. The first floor of the clinic was cleaned but the operation was underway to secure the rest of the building, according to the press release. Several hours later, the ministry issued another statement, claiming that the three attackers were dead and the operation was over.
In the evening, husbands, fathers and family members of hospital patients gathered around the site in Dashti Barchi, desperate to hear from their loved ones. A man read the names of those who had been evacuated to other hospitals.
Neighboring Pakistan condemned the attack on Kabul, calling it an “inhuman and cowardly terrorist attack”.
The foreign ministry said that the attack on Kabul hospital and the funeral in eastern Nangarhar province “are particularly despicable as they take place during the holy month of Ramadan and at a time when Afghanistan is grappling with the COVID-19 “pandemic. In the attack on Nangarhar, the suicide bomber targeted the funeral in the Khewa district of a local pro-government militia commander and former warlord who died Monday night of a heart attack, said Attahullah Khogyani, spokesperson for the governor. of the province.
The Interior Ministry said the death toll included 24 dead and 68 injured. The injured were taken to Nangarhar Provincial Hospital, said hospital spokesman Gulzada Sangar. Khogyani added that among the dead was Abdullah Lala Jan, a member of the provincial council, while his father Noor Agha, a politician, was injured in the attack.
According to Zabihullah Zemarai, another member of the provincial council, dozens of people, including politicians, members of the provincial council and locals, had gathered for the funeral of Shaikh Akram, the militia commander.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid tweeted that the Taliban were not involved in the attack. In addition, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack on Khost, which killed one child and injured 10 people. The bomb was placed in a cart at a local market and exploded from a distance, said Adil Haidari, spokesperson for the provincial police chief.
The SI, meanwhile, said it was behind a series of attacks on Monday in Kabul when four bombs, one placed under a trash can and the other three by the roadside, exploded in northern the city, injuring four civilians, including a child.
Afghan intelligence said in a statement on Monday that the agency had arrested an ISIS leader in the region, Zia-ul Haq, also known as Shaikh Abu Omer Al-Khorasani.