Taliban Deny Involvement in Bombing

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Taliban have denied involvement in a suicide bombing in the Afghan capital that killed at least 55 people.

Tuesday's attack, which targeted a gathering of hundreds of clerics at a wedding hall in Kabul, bore the hallmarks of a local Islamic State affiliate, which has carried out mass bombings targeting minority Shiites as well as perceived supporters of the U.S.-backed government.

Public Health Ministry spokesman Wahid Majroh said Wednesday that 55 people were killed and 94 others were wounded in the attack, updating a previous toll.

Both the Taliban and the IS affiliate want to overthrow the Afghan government and impose a harsh form of Islamic rule. But they are bitterly divided over leadership, ideology and tactics. The Taliban mainly target security forces and government officials, while IS specializes in sectarian attacks on civilians.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said late Tuesday his group condemns any attack on civilians or religious clerics.

The suicide bomber was able to sneak into a wedding hall where hundreds of Muslim religious scholars and clerics had gathered to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Islamic State group claimed a suicide bombing in June that killed at least seven people and wounded 20 at a meeting of top clerics in the capital. The body of religious leaders, known as the Afghan Ulema Council, had issued a decree against suicide attacks and called for peace talks. IS said it had targeted "tyrant clerics" who were siding with the U.S.-backed government.

The Taliban denied involvement in the June attack but they also denounced the gathering.

Afghan security forces have struggled to combat the twin insurgencies since the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014, shifting to a support and counterterrorism role. President Donald Trump's decision last year to send in additional U.S. forces has had little if any impact on the ground.

(KA)