An terrorist attack targeted a crowded bank in the southern province of Helmand in Afghanistan, killing 34 civilians and soldiers, according to a latest report.
The explosion, which also left about 60 wounded, occurred around noon at Lashkar-Gah, the capital of the Helmand, in front of a branch of the New Kabul Bank, which has been attacked for the third time in three years.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, claimed the operation late in the afternoon, claiming to have “killed 73 soldiers and policemen who were collecting their pay before the holidays.” The insurgents regularly exaggerate the record of their attacks.
Helmand, the main source of the world poppy, is largely under the control of the Taliban.
The press service of the governor, who announced a report of 34 dead and 58 wounded, said on the other hand that “the majority of the victims are civilians, including women and children”.
The governor, Hayatullah Hayat, also demanded a “meticulous investigation”.
Images taken shortly after the explosion of the car bomb show mutilated bodies huddled together on the trays of the police pick-ups.
Police spokesman Salam Afghan said that among the victims, “some bodies are impossible to identify”.
For the AFP correspondent, who was nearby, it is a suicide attack. This was confirmed by Aqa Noor Kentoz, the provincial police chief, live on the TV station Tolo News: “It was a suicide car bombing, there are no other attackers” he said.
“Civilians and soldiers were lining up to get their salary” when the vehicle exploded, he said.
The same branch of the New Kabul Bank has already been attacked twice in the past: first in December 2014, in a multi-hour battle that resulted in the death of twelve people, including the five assailants. Then again in February, under the same circumstances: a suicide bomber blew himself up at the time of the payment of the salaries and wages.
This operation, claimed by the Taliban, had left six people dead and about twenty wounded.
Lashkar Gah is virtually surrounded by the Taliban: the insurgents control three-quarters of the Helmand, a major poppy producing region, which provides them most of their income through levies on producers.
Families in the Muslim world are preparing to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan and the Eid-El-Fitr, which will take place on Sunday or Monday.
This period, which is essential for Muslims, raises fears of an upsurge in attacks by Islamist insurgents, who believe that they will gain heaven by conducting suicide attacks at that time.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned “this barbaric attack on our compatriots on the eve of Eid-el-Fitr”, denouncing “those terrorist groups that never stop killing people even during the holy month of Ramadan.”
The country has seen renewed tension and attacks in recent weeks, including a spectacular truck bomb, killing at least 150 people and injuring 400 people, according to an official report on May 31st in the diplomatic district of Kabul.
This attack, the bloodiest since 2001, has not been claimed.
On the other hand, the Taliban have claimed responsibility for numerous assaults on the Afghan security forces, police and army, causing dozens of deaths in their ranks.
They also demanded operations against the Western forces that they are demanding to leave, just as the Pentagon is studying the forthcoming deployment of several thousand men to reinforce the 8,400 Americans already present in the NATO force.