A car bomb exploded outside a sports stadium in Afghanistan’s restive south on Friday, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens more, officials said, capping a bloody week in the war-torn country.
The blast happened in Lashkar Gah city as spectators were leaving a wrestling match at the stadium, Helmand provincial governor spokesman Omar Zwak told AFP.
Helmand police spokesman Salam Afghan told AFP that at least 10 people had been killed and 35 others wounded in the attack.
But Zwak put the death toll even higher at 13 dead and 45 wounded, including children.
Afghan officials often give conflicting tolls in the wake of attacks.
“The suicide bomber detonated his car bomb as spectators were leaving the stadium,” Zwak said.
“The bomber wanted to go inside the stadium but he was identified by the police and he detonated himself.” The police spokesman confirmed the blast was caused by a car bomb.
Photos posted on Twitter purportedly of the explosion showed a huge fire and a thick plume of black smoke rising into the sky.
The Italian NGO Emergency said four dead and 35 wounded had been taken to its hospital in the city.
“We heard a loud explosion from our surgical centre in the city,” Emergency tweeted.
“35 wounded already taken to our hospital, another 4 were dead on arrival.” There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Agha Mohammad, a 25-year-old shopkeeper from Lashkar Gah, was among the spectators leaving the match when the blast happened.
“Four of my family members were martyred and three others were wounded,” a sobbing Mohammad told AFP at the Emergency hospital.
Bloody few days
Helmand is mostly controlled by the Taliban, which is under growing pressure to take up the Afghan government’s offer of peace talks to end the 16-year war. So far it has given only a muted response.
Witnesses said the wrestling match had been held as part of celebrations for Nauroz, the Persian new year holiday that some Muslims consider un-Islamic.
The attack caps a bloody few days in war-torn Afghanistan.
In Kabul on Wednesday a suicide bomber blew himself up among a crowd of people celebrating Nawrooz, killing dozens of people, many of them teenagers.
The Islamic State group’s local franchise in Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the assault in the Shia-majority neighbourhood ─ the fifth suicide bombing in the Afghan capital in recent weeks ─ via the messaging app Telegram.
The blast killed 33 and wounded 65, the health ministry said, up from an earlier toll given by the interior ministry of 26 dead and 18 hurt.
All the injured were civilians, said interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.
Taliban and IS militants have ramped up attacks across the country in recent weeks even before the official start of the spring fighting season.
Despite calls for the Taliban to sit down with the Afghan government, the group ─ which has been resurgent since the withdrawal of US-led NATO combat troops at the end of 2014 ─ appears to have few reasons to negotiate.
In October, insurgents controlled or influenced nearly half of Afghanistan’s districts ─ double the percentage in 2015, the US government’s office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in January.
Over the same period, the watchdog said, the number of districts under Afghan government control or influence fell to its lowest level since December 2015.