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Islamic State suicide bomber kills 33 as Afghans celebrate new year

Islamic State suicide bomber kills 33 as Afghans celebrate new year
Security officials inspect the scene of a suicide bomb blast on March 21, 2018, that targeted a shrine visited by Shiite Muslims in Kabul, Afghanistan, as the country observes Nowruz, the Persian New Year. (Hedayatullah Amid / EPA/Shutterstock)

A suicide bomber linked to Islamic State struck on the road to a Shiite shrine in Afghanistan's capital on Wednesday, killing at least 33 people as Afghans celebrated the Persian New Year, authorities said.

Wahid Majrooh, spokesman for the Public Health Ministry, said 65 others were wounded in the attack, which was carried out by a bomber on foot.

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Islamic State claimed responsibility in an online statement, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant websites. The group said the attack targeted "a gathering of Shiites celebrating Nowruz," the Persian New Year.

Nowruz is a national holiday in Afghanistan, and the country's minority Shiite Muslims typically celebrate by visiting shrines. The Sunni Muslim extremists of Islamic State have repeatedly targeted Shiites, whom the militants view as apostates deserving of death.

The attack took place near Kabul University and a government hospital about a mile from the Sakhi shrine, where people were gathered to celebrate the new year, said Gen. Daud Amin, Kabul's police chief.

Amin said the attacker managed to slip past police checkpoints set up along the road. He said that an investigation into the security breach is underway, and that anyone found to have neglected his duties would be punished.

This month, another Islamic State suicide bomber targeted Afghanistan's ethnic Hazaras, killing nine people and wounding 18. The bomber blew himself up at a police checkpoint near a Shiite gathering in west Kabul. The bomber was on foot and was trying to make his way to a compound where the Hazaras had gathered to commemorate the 1995 death of their leader, Abdul Ali Mazari, who was killed by Taliban insurgents.

Kabul has recently seen a spate of large-scale militant attacks by both the Taliban and the Islamic State. In late January, a Taliban attacker drove an ambulance filled with explosives into the heart of the city, killing at least 103 people and wounding as many as 235.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in a statement condemned Wednesday's attack, calling it a "crime against humanity."

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bass said he was saddened by the "shameful" attack.

"I continue to hope that every citizen of Afghanistan soon will be able to live in peace, without fear of indiscriminate attacks by terrorists who have no respect for human life," he said in a statement. "The United States and its people remain steadfast in their commitment to working with our Afghan partners to combat terrorism and to secure peace in the year ahead."

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the attack, calling Nowruz "a time of renewal and celebration," when the values of peace and solidarity should be promoted, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. He added that "those who have organized this attack must be brought to justice."

Despite the deadly attack, people including women and children later came out on the streets, many wearing colorful clothes, and continued to celebrate the holiday.

UPDATES:

2:25 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details that include the death toll increasing from 29 to 33.

This article was originally published at 7:10 a.m.

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