KABUL (Reuters): Gunmen attacked a hospital in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Tuesday where the international humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders runs a maternity clinic, killing 13 people, including two newborn babies, officials said.
In a separate attack the same day, a suicide bomber struck the funeral of a police commander, attended by government officials and a member of parliament, in the eastern province of Nangahar, killing at least 24 people and injuring 68.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack. The Taliban, Afghanistan’s main Islamist insurgency group which says it has halted attacks on cities under a US troop withdrawal deal, denied involvement in both.
The Islamic State militant group operates in Nangahar and has carried out a number of high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months. On Monday security forces arrested its regional leader in the capital.
A spokesman for the Nangahar provincial government said the casualty toll could rise in the attack on the funeral.
Pakistan, in a statement through the Foreign Office, strongly condemned the “inhuman and cowardly terrorist attack on a medical facility in Kabul and suicide attack on a funeral in Nangarhar”.
“These terrorist acts are particularly despicable as they take place in the holy month of Ramazan and at a time when Afghanistan is grappling with Covid-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
“We extend heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the families of victims and prayers for early recovery for those injured. Our thoughts and prayers are also with the Afghan people in this hour of grief.
“Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and will continue to support a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.”
In Kabul, the attack began in the morning when at least three gunmen wearing police uniforms entered the Dasht-e-Barchi hospital, throwing grenades and shooting, government officials said. Fifteen people were wounded in the attack, according to the Ministry of Interior. Security forces had killed the attackers by the afternoon.
The 100-bed government-run hospital hosted a maternity clinic run by Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
MSF confirmed in a tweet that the hospital had been attacked and staff and patients were being evacuated. Just hours before it had tweeted a photo of a newborn infant at the clinic in his mother’s arms after being delivered safely by emergency caesarean section.
Interior and health ministry officials said that mothers, nurses and children were among the dead and wounded.
Photos from the Ministry of Interior showed two young children lying dead inside the hospital. Soldiers ferried infants out of the compound, some wrapped in blood-stained blankets. Officials said 100 people in total were rescued, including three foreign nationals.
The neighbourhood is home to many members of Afghanistan’s Hazara community, a mostly Shia Muslim minority that has been attacked by Sunni militants from Islamic State in the past, including at a Kabul ceremony commemorating the death of one of its leaders in March.
Rights group Amnesty International condemned both attacks.
“The unconscionable war crimes in Afghanistan today, targeting a maternity hospital and a funeral, must awaken the world to the horrors civilians continue to face,” the group said on Twitter. “There must be accountability for these grave crimes.”
Last week, security forces killed and arrested several members of an Islamic State cell that authorities said was responsible for several attacks in Kabul including one on a Sikh temple in March. A roadside blast in the capital on Monday, which wounded four civilians, was claimed by the group.
Afghanistan is also facing violence around the country from the Taliban even as the United States tries to usher in peace talks after signing a troop withdrawal agreement in February with the militants.
The Taliban say they are holding back from attacking urban centres and their operations are aimed at government security forces.