At least 14 people were killed in central Afghanistan on Tuesday when two blasts ripped through the historic city of Bamiyan, home to many members of the mainly Shiite Hazara ethnic minority, officials said.
The carnage brought to an end years of calm in the isolated town — famous for its ancient Buddhist heritage — that has avoided the sort of large-scale attacks commonplace elsewhere in the war-torn country.
The twin bombing marked the latest big attack in Afghanistan, where violence has surged in recent months even as Taliban and Afghan government negotiators are meeting for peace talks in the Qatari capital Doha.
“Fourteen people have been killed and 45 more wounded in two (bomb) explosions,” Bamiyan police chief Zabardast Safi told AFP, adding that a traffic policeman was among those killed.
The explosives were placed in two separate locations, Bamiyan police spokesman Reza Yosufi said, adding that two suspects had been arrested.
Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed the toll.
“We are investigating the deadly explosions in Bamiyan,” he said.
“This is an unforgivable crime.”
No group immediately claimed the blasts, and the Taliban denied involvement.
The explosions occurred in front of a market and near a hospital in Bamiyan, locals resident Anwar Saadatyar told AFP.
“When I reached the market… there was still blood and body parts everywhere. The blast occurred when people were busy shopping,” he said in a phone interview.
At the second site of the blast near the hospital, most of the casualties were university students, Saadatyar said.
“I visited the hospital later and saw people crying for their relatives who were killed or wounded in the explosions,” he said.
“There were so many wounded people that doctors didn’t know who to treat first. I will never forget that scene.”
– Buddhas of Bamiyan –
Bamiyan is perhaps best known for the giant Buddha statues that once were carved into walls outside the city.
In 2001, the Taliban drew international revulsion when they blew up the centuries-old figures as they went on a rampage against Afghanistan’s rich pre-Islamic cultural heritage.
With its snowy backdrop and frequent blue skies, Bamiyan is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs keen to explore a network of ancient caves housing temples, monasteries and Buddhist paintings.
The province is home mainly to the Hazara community, which over the years has been targeted by Sunni extremists such as the Islamic State group and the Taliban in the 1990s.
In cities such as Kabul, Hazaras have seen repeated attacks in their neighbourhoods, including a brutal daylight assault in the capital in May on a hospital maternity ward that left several mothers dead.
In the past six months the Taliban have carried out 53 suicide attacks and detonated 1,250 explosive devices that have left 1,210 civilians dead and 2,500 wounded, the interior ministry said last week.