JALALABAD - At least 13 people were killed in a suicide attack on an Afghan election campaign rally on Tuesday, an official said, in the latest violence ahead of this month’s legislative vote.
The attack is the first suicide assault since campaigning officially kicked off last Friday for the parliamentary elections, preparations for which have already been marred by bloody violence.
More than 30 people were wounded when the militant blew himself up among supporters of candidate Abdul Nasir Mohmmand in the Kama district of the eastern province of Nangarhar, provincial governor spokesman Ataullah Khogyani said.
Some of the wounded were in a critical condition, Khogyani added.
Provincial health director Najibullah Kamawal said 55 people, including 13 bodies, had been taken to hospitals so far.
An AFP reporter saw numerous ambulances delivering bodies and wounded people to a hospital in the provincial capital of Jalalabad.
Sayed Humayun, who had brought his injured cousin to the medical facility, said scores of people had been inside a hall listening to Mohmmand speak when the bomber struck.
"I heard a big explosion," Humayun told AFP.
"For a while I could not see, I thought I was blinded, but later I saw I was surrounded by bodies and people covered in blood."
Violence has plagued the run-up to Afghanistan’s long-delayed parliamentary vote, which is scheduled for October 20.
Five candidates have been murdered in targeted killings, according to the Independent Election Commission, and there are fears violence will escalate.
There were also numerous attacks on voter registration centres, including a suicide blast at a centre in Kabul that killed dozens.
More than 2,500 candidates will contest the ballot, which is seen as a test run for next year’s presidential election.
But preparations for the vote have been in turmoil for months.
Bureaucratic inefficiency, allegations of industrial-scale fraud and an eleventh-hour pledge for biometric verification of voters threaten to derail the election and any hope of a credible result.
The international community is pushing hard for the vote to happen before November’s ministerial meeting in Geneva, which the United Nations says is a "crucial moment" for the Afghan government and its foreign partners to demonstrate progress.
Some 54,000 members of Afghanistan’s beleaguered security forces will be responsible for protecting more than 5,000 polling centres on election day.
More than 2,000 polling centres that were supposed to open will be closed for security reasons.
It is a daunting task as the Taliban and the Islamic State group, which have vowed to disrupt the ballot, ramp up attacks across the country. - APP/AFP