At least 60 people killed in bomb blasts outside Kabul airport, medical sources say, in attack claimed by ISIL.
Two suicide bombers and gunmen have attacked crowds of Afghans at Kabul’s airport, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover.
At least 60 people were killed, medical sources told Al Jazeera, and dozens of others were wounded in the blasts on Thursday.
Among the dead were dozens of civilians and 12 US service members.
Here’s what we know so far:
There were two explosions outside the perimeter of the Kabul airport. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said one blast occurred near the airport’s entrance of Abbey Gate.
One of the bombers struck Afghans standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water.
The second blast was at or near Baron Hotel, where many people, including Afghans, Britons and Americans, were told to gather in recent days before heading to the airport for evacuation.
The Taliban’s August 15 capture of Kabul triggered an exodus of foreign nationals and workers, along with Afghans who worked with foreign militaries and groups to flee to the airport.
Who is behind the attack?
The ISIL (ISIS) group, has claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s Amaq News Agency said on its Telegram channel.
The ISIL affiliate in Afghanistan, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), is opposed to Western nations as well as the Taliban, which recently took control of the country in a lightning blitz and condemned the attack.
ISKP members, with links to the group’s more well-known affiliate in Syria and Iraq, have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shia Muslim minority, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants.
In the hours after the blast, a Taliban official and Russian officials said at least 13 people were killed in the explosions, with several others wounded.
Later on Thursday, medical sources told Al Jazeera that at least 60 people were killed in the blast. Media reports citing Afghan officials have confirmed that at least 60 Afghan civilians were killed and more than 140 Afghans were wounded in the attacks.
The Pentagon confirmed that at least 12 US service members were killed in the attack and that another 15 service personnel were wounded.
Does the attack come as a surprise?
Overnight on Wednesday, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from ISIL, which has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during its advance through Afghanistan.
Late Wednesday, the US embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, the UK and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport.
Western officials warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport, but that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the US officially ends its 20-year presence on August 31.
Amid the warnings and the pending American withdrawal, Canada ended its evacuations, and several European nations halted or prepared to stop their own operations.
But Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said some planes would continue to fly.
“Evacuation operations in Kabul will not be wrapping up in 36 hours. We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission,” he said in a tweet.
The Taliban have said they will allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the August 31 deadline next week, but it remains unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the group.