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‘Death is better for me than this’: Groom speaks out after ISIL attack kills 63 at his Kabul wedding

KABUL — ISIL militants claimed responsibility on Sunday for a suicide blast at a wedding reception in Afghanistan that killed 63 people and wounded almost 200, underlining the dangers the country faces even if the Taliban agrees to a pact with the United States.

The Saturday night attack, at a venue holding almost 1,000 people, came as the Taliban and the United States try to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of U.S. forces in exchange for a Taliban commitment on security and peace talks with Afghanistan’s U.S.-backed government.

The Taliban denied responsibility for the blast and condemned it.

Many women and children were among the casualties, interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said on Sunday as grieving families thronged to Kabul’s crowded cemeteries. Pictures on social media from the scene of the blast showed bodies strewn amid overturned tables and chairs, with dark blood stains on the wedding hall carpet.

Somehow both the bride and groom survived.

“Death is better for me than this,” groom Mirwais Alami told local television, according to the New York Times.

“I can’t get myself to go to the funerals, my legs feel weak. Even if they tear me to pieces now, and take a piece of me to each home that lost a loved one so they get solace, their hearts won’t get peace.”

The groom said his cousin and some friends had been killed, and the bride’s father told TOLOnews that 14 members of his family were killed.

“We want peace, not such brutal suicide attacks,” said Ahmad Khan, who was burying a relative.


An Afghan man mourns during the funeral of his brother after a wedding suicide bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan August 18, 2019.

Omar Sobhani /

Reuters

The groom Alami, 25, is a tailor by trade; his wife, Raihana, is 18 and was graduating high school, the Times reports. He had scrambled together savings and loans of some $14,000 to pay for the reception, the Times added.

The Times reported that although the wedding was initially not supposed to happen so soon — the couple was engaged seven months — the groom asked the bride’s parents to bring the date forward owing to the country’s unstable situation.

“I brought pain, and nothing else — no happiness,” the groom said.

ISIL has claimed some of the bloodiest attacks in Afghan cities over the past couple of years, with some aimed at the Shi’ite minority.

The Sunni Muslim group, in a statement on the messaging website Telegram, claimed responsibility for the attack at the west Kabul wedding hall in a minority Shi’ite neighbourhood, saying its bomber had been able to infiltrate the reception and detonate his explosives in the crowd of “infidels.”

On Monday, with the shock from the wedding blast still sinking in, a series of bombings struck restaurants and public squares in the eastern Afghanistan city of Jalalabad, wounding at least 66 people, officials said, as the country marked the 100th anniversary of its independence.

The Jalalabad bombs were planted near a market where hundreds of people had congregated after attending Independence Day events. Senior health official Fahim Bashari said that among the wounded were 20 children.

No group claimed responsibility for the 10 bombs.

ISIL fighters, who first appeared in Afghanistan in 2014 and have since made inroads in the east and north, are not involved in the peace talks with the U.S. They are battling government and U.S.-led international forces and the Taliban. ISIL’s claim of responsibility was relayed in a way that indicated the bomber was from Pakistan, the New York Times reports.


A wounded man receives treatment at the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital.

Wakil Koshar /

AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. special envoy for reconciliation in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the attack showed the need to accelerate efforts to reach a deal with the Taliban, to help defeat ISIL.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday called the attack “horrible” and expressed optimism at the state of talks. He said the United States would seek to get troop levels below 13,000 but leave “very significant” intelligence capabilities behind.

“We’re there for one reason, we don’t want that to be a laboratory, it can’t be a laboratory for terror,” Trump said, speaking before boarding Air Force One in New Jersey.

About 14,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, training and advising Afghan security forces and conducting counterinsurgency operations.


Afghan men investigate in a wedding hall.

Wakil Koshar /

AFP/Getty Images

Bloodshed and talks

Brightly lit wedding halls that line some suburban streets of Kabul had been targeted previously by bombers. At least 40 people were killed in a blast in November.

There has been no let-up in fighting and bomb attacks in Afghanistan over recent months despite talks between the U.S. and the Taliban since late last year.

President Ashraf Ghani, in comments on the Kabul blast before the ISIL claim, said the Taliban could not “absolve themselves of blame for they provide a platform for terrorists.”

The Taliban has been fighting to expel foreign forces and re-establish a theocratic Islamic state since its ousting in October 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.


An Afghan cleric reads the holy Koran over the grave of a civilian during a burial ceremony.

Omar Sobhani /

Reuters

Both U.S. negotiators and the Taliban have reported progress after eight rounds of talks since late last year.

Trump has made no secret of his desire for a U.S. pullout from Afghanistan and an end to America’s longest war.

But there are concerns among Afghan officials and U.S. national security aides that Afghanistan could be plunged into a new civil war that could herald a return of Taliban rule and international militants, including ISIL, finding a refuge.

Success here will put Afghans in a much stronger position to defeat ISIS

Afghan government officials also fear that a Taliban pact could drive some die-hard Taliban fighters into the arms of Islamic State.

Under the expected deal, the Taliban, in exchange for a U.S. commitment to withdraw, would guarantee that Afghanistan would not be a sanctuary for militants to expand and plot new attacks.

The United States also wants a Taliban commitment to hold power-sharing talks with the government and announce a ceasefire. The Taliban has refused to talk to the government.

Khalilzad said the peace process had to be accelerated, in particular the intra-Afghan talks.

“Success here will put Afghans in a much stronger position to defeat ISIS,” he tweeted, referring to Islamic State.

— with files from the New York Times

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