At least 63 people were killed and over 182 people injured in one of the deadliest explosion targeting a wedding in the Afghan capital – Kabul authorities said on Sunday.
The blast, which took place late on Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban are in the final stages of a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan.
The Taliban denied any involvement in the attack. Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi provided the toll, which is the highest in Kabul in recent months.
“Among the wounded are women and children,” Rahimi said.
Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s attack images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water.
The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shias are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called militant Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.
Mohammad Farhag, who had been at the wedding, told AFP he had been in the women’s section when he heard a huge blast in the men’s area. “Everyone ran outside shouting and crying,” he said.
“For about 20 minutes the hall was full of smoke. Almost everyone in the men’s section is either dead or wounded.” Two hours after the blast, he said bodies were still being removed from the hall.
Insurgents have periodically struck Afghan weddings, which are seen as easy targets because they frequently lack rigorous security precautions.
On July 12, at least six people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a wedding ceremony in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. IS, which has a growing footprint in the region, claimed the blast.
Expectations are rising for a deal in which the United States would start withdrawing its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan after a two-decade war that has turned into a stalemate.
In return, the Taliban would commit to various security guarantees, including that the Islamist hardliners who long harboured Al-Qaeda would not allow Afghanistan to once again become a jihadist safe haven.
Many Afghans fear the deal could see the Taliban return to some form of power, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular, or the country descends further into a brutal civil war.