More than 50 people were killed when a suicide bomber targeted a gathering of scholars celebrating a religious holiday in Kabul on Tuesday, Afghan government officials said.
“A suicide bomber detonated his explosives inside a wedding hall where Islamic religious scholars had gathered to commemorate the anniversary of the Prophet Mohammad’s birth,” Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said, according to Reuters.
At least 80 people were wounded. Public Health Ministry spokesman Wahid Majroh said 20 of those injured were in critical condition and that the death toll was likely to rise, The Associated Press reported.
While no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, NPR’s Diaa Hadid reported that the target “suggested it was the work of Sunni extremists who believe any birthday celebration for the prophet Muhammad is idolatry.”
Wednesday has been declared a national day of mourning by the Afghan president, according to Hadid.
A spokesman for the Kabul police, Basir Mujahid, told the AP that the organizers of the event had not asked for assistance in securing the wedding hall.
“The suicide bomber apparently walked in among those people — the explosives, according an Afghan official, very potent — and detonated himself,” freelance reporter Jennifer Glasse told NPR’s Morning Edition. “The bomber definitely was trying to kill as many people as possible.”
Glasse noted that the hall could hold up to 1,000 people.
According to a waiter at the wedding hall, the scale of the destruction was immediately evident.
“Everything was covered with smoke and dust,” Mohammad Muzamil told the AP. “There were dead bodies all around on the chairs, in large numbers.”
The U.S. State Department condemned the attack, saying in a statement, “This shameless act comes as the Afghan people attempt to celebrate Milad-un-Nabi in peace, and reveals the cowardice and cruelty of those who perpetuate violence in Afghanistan.”
The attack was the largest to hit Afghanistan’s most populated city in recent months.
“Its been really quiet here in Kabul the last month or so,” Glasse said. “We had parliamentary elections in October — the Taliban and Islamic State had both targeted the run-up to those elections and the elections themselves. People have been watching and waiting to see what might happen.”
In June, there was a three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which Glasse said raised many people’s hopes for peace.
“Now people are wondering, what happens to the prospects for peace going forward,” she said. “Really, we’re going to have to wait and see who claims responsibility for this bombing.”