Afghan officials say at least 50 people were killed and 83 others were wounded in a suicide bomb blast at a gathering of religious scholars in the capital, Kabul.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said the attacker detonated his explosive-laden vest as people were gathered to mark the Prophet Mohammad's birthday at a local wedding hall.
Health Ministry official Wahedullah Majroh told VOA at least 24 people were brought to the hospital in “critical condition.”
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the “horrendous” attack. He declared Wednesday as a national day of mourning, saying the national flag will be flown at half-staff all in Afghan and diplomat missions abroad.
Witnesses told reporters there were around 1,000 people inside the hall, including prominent religious scholars.
The Taliban condemned the suicide bombing against the religious gathering, saying the insurgent group had nothing to do with the attack.
The Taliban’s denial strengthened suspicions the bombing could be the work of Islamic State’s Afghan branch, known as IS Khorasan Province or ISK-P.
U.S. Ambassador in Kabul, John Bass, tweeted that he is "Sickened and deeply saddened by tonight’s terror attack as the Ulema [clerics] Council marked the Prophet’s Birthday."
He extended condolences from the U.S. government to the families and followers of those killed and wounded.
Amnesty International also denounced the bloodshed in Kabul as a deliberate attack on civilians that constituted a war crime.
“Armed groups must immediately halt all attacks targeting civilians and indiscriminate attacks, while the Afghan government must make the protection of civilian lives its absolute priority,” the rights group said in a statement. “This attack also once again highlights the irresponsibility of countries in the European Union who claim Afghanistan is a safe place for refugees and asylum seekers to be returned to.”
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blast.
According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), a total of 1,692 civilians were killed between January 1 and June 30 this year, marking the highest figure for civilian casualties recorded by the U.N. body.