KABUL  -  At least 20 people have been killed including two Afghan journalists after twin blasts at a Kabul wrestling club on Wednesday that left another 70 wounded, officials said, in the latest assault on the capital.

An hour after a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the sports hall in a heavily Shiite neighbourhood, a car packed with explosives detonated as journalists and security forces gathered at the scene, police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said.

At least four journalists were wounded in the second explosion, media support group NAI said. Tolo News, Afghanistan’s largest private broadcaster, confirmed two of their journalists were killed.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the twin explosions, but the Islamic State group often targets Afghanistan’s minority Shiite community. The Taliban denied involvement.

“An attack on civilians and media workers of the country is an attack on freedom of speech and crime against humanity,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement condemning the latest violence.  A spokesman at the interior ministry said at least 20 people were killed and another 70 wounded in the blasts. An Afghan security source confirmed the casualty toll. Civilians and members of the security forces also were among the dead and wounded.

Health ministry spokesman Wahid Majroh had earlier put the death toll at 16 people and another 60 wounded.

“I was outside when the first explosion happened, which has killed over 30 people, many of them wrestlers,” Pahlawan Shir, director of the Maiwand wrestling club, told AFP. “I was searching for my coach, I have finally found him in the... hospital. He is in a critical condition.”

Social media users who purportedly witnessed the attack said the bomber killed the guards at the club before blowing himself up inside.

He “detonated inside where a large number of athletes had gathered. There are a lot of dead and wounded”, Mohammad Hanif said on Facebook.

A photo posted on Twitter purportedly showed several victims being loaded into the back of a police pick-up.

On the other side of the country, two consecutive explosions near a police checkpoint in Herat city wounded three civilians and two police officers, Herat police spokesman Abdul Ahad Walizada told AFP.

The last major attack on Shiites in Kabul was on August 15 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in an education centre, killing dozens of students.  IS said it was behind that attack, which drew international condemnation and came amid a wave of deadly violence across the country.

Most of the victims were studying for college entrance exams when the blast happened. Civilians have long borne the brunt of the violence in Afghanistan - especially in Kabul, a target of both the Taliban and IS.

Journalists also have paid a heavy price covering the conflict. At least 11 were killed in the first six months of the year, the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee said in a report, describing the period as the “bloodiest”.

On April 30, twin explosions in Kabul killed nine journalists and 16 other people. Among the dead was AFP chief photographer Shah Marai.

AFP driver Mohammad Akhtar was killed less than three months later in a suicide attack in Kabul that also claimed the lives of 22 others.

Wednesday’s attack comes a day after the Taliban announced the death of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who founded the eponymous militant group which is widely suspected of being behind some of the attacks in Kabul claimed by IS.

The Taliban have been conducting blistering attacks on security forces across Afghanistan, including the massive, days-long onslaught on the eastern city of Ghazni last month.


Eleven members ofAfghanistan’s dreaded Haqqani militant network have been arrested in Kabul, the Afghan intelligence agency said Wednesday, a day after the announcement of the death of the group’s founder.

Afghan special forces arrested the militants in Kabul city and nearby districts, the National Directorate of Security said in a statement. They are suspected of involvement in bombings and targeted killings of government employees and “influential figures”, the NDS said.

A large quantity of explosives and munitions were seized in the operation, it added, without saying when the militants were arrested.

The statement comes a day after the Taliban announced the death of the Haqqani network’s founder Jalaluddin Haqqani. It did not say when he died.

Jalaluddin was a one-time CIA asset in the fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s before founding the brutal Haqqani network that is now a top US target.

The extremist group has long been allied with the Taliban in the war against the Afghan government and its international backers.

It is known for its heavy use of suicide bombers and was designated a terrorist organisation by the US in 2012.

The group has been blamed for spectacular attacks across Afghanistan and is widely suspected of being behind recent assaults on Kabul that were claimed by the local wing of the Islamic State group.

Jalaluddin is believed to have been bedridden for years before his death. He had already passed the leadership to his son Sirajuddin, who is also the Taliban’s deputy leader.