KABUL: A suicide bomber on a motorcycle targeted a campaign rally by Ashraf Ghani in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least 24 people, including women and children, officials said.
Ghani, seeking re-election as president, was at the venue but was unharmed, according to his campaign chief.
Just hours later, an explosion struck near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing 22 and wounding 38.
Afghanistan’s presidential election is Sept. 28. This coincides with local council votes in Ghazni Province, central Afghanistan.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the two blasts. The insurgent group had warned that polling stations and election campaigns would be targeted.
Wahida Shahkar, spokesperson for Parwan’s governor, said the Ghani rally had just begun when the explosion occurred.
The bomber rammed his motorcycle packed with explosives into the entrance of the venue where he was campaigning on the outskirts of the city of Charakar in northern Parwan province.
Many women and children were among the casualties, said Dr. Qasim Sangin, a local official.
Firdaus Faramarz, speaking for Kabul’s police chief, said there was no immediate information about casualties in the Kabul blast near Massood Square, a deeply congested intersection in the centre of Kabul. NATO and U.S. compounds, as well as several Afghan government ministries are nearby.
Campaigning for the Afghan elections resumed last week after U.S. President Donald Trump declared that the U.S.-Taliban talks that have been going on for months in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar are over.
Most presidential candidates had suspended their campaigns while negotiations were taking place and as the U.S. peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said a deal was all but signed.
TALIBAN PEACE TALKS ‘DEAD’:
Trump’s tweets at the beginning of September declaring the deal and the talks were “dead” launched the war-battered nation on an election campaign.
Trump halted negotiations with the Taliban after one attacks had killed two NATO soldiers, including an American, and another U.S. soldier died in combat in Afghanistan on Monday.
Ghani, who had been sidelined during much of the talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban, resumed campaigning immediately, steadfast in his demand that presidential polls take place.
Khalilzad and some of Ghani’s rivals, however, had talked of establishing an interim administration to run the country while a peace deal was implemented.
In the aftermath of the scrapped talks, Afghans braced for what many expected to be an increase in violence.
The Taliban has opposed the elections and refused to meet with representatives of Ghani’s government for talks. The group has also refused to agree to a ceasefire.
PAKISTAN CONDEMNS ATTACK:
Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry denounced the attack at Ghani’s rally, and offered condolences to the families of the victims as well as prayers for a speedy recovery of the wounded.
A statement by the ministry said, “Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms,” adding Islamabad’s support for Afghan efforts aimed at restoring peace and stability to the war-ravaged country.
The Taliban has stepped up attacks across Afghanistan in recent months.