Afghan Suicide Bomber Targeting Clerics Kills 50 in Kabul

(Bloomberg) -- A suicide bomber targeting a gathering of hundreds of religious scholars in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul killed 50 clerics and wounded more than 80 others in the deadliest attack since September in the war-torn nation.

The bomber detonated explosives Tuesday among the clerics as they were commemorating the birthday of Prophet Muhammad in a wedding hall, near Kabul international airport, said city police spokesman Basir Mujahed by phone.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani declared Wednesday a national day of mourning and ordered that the national flag be flown at half-mast in the country and diplomatic missions abroad. Taliban militants, who control or contest half of Afghanistan, also condemned the attack, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said. No group has so far claimed responsibility.

The deadly incident takes place as the U.S. is pushing to broker a peace deal with the Taliban before the presidential elections in April 2019 in a bid to end its longest running war. U.S. special envoy on Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad failed to reach a deal with the group in initial talks with Taliban’s senior members in Doha where the militants have a political office.

In September, a suicide bomber targeted peaceful protesters in eastern Nangarhar province, killing about 70 people and wounding more than 160 others. The Islamic State claimed this attack.

The Taliban now controls more territory than any time since they were toppled by the U.S. invasion in 2001. The war in Afghanistan is at stalemate and the militants are “not losing” in the battlegrounds, said General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. in a security forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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