- Associated Press - Thursday, March 7, 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Several explosions struck Thursday outside a ceremony in Kabul attended by Afghanistan’s chief executive and the former president, both of whom were unharmed, officials said. There was conflicting information as to the casualty figures in the immediate aftermath of the blasts.

A short while later, Health Ministry official Mohaibullah Zaeer said an initial check of Kabul’s hospitals revealed three people have been killed and 32 wounded in the attack but he said the figures were not final.

Earlier, another official, who was at the ceremony, said seven people were killed and at least 10 were wounded. He spoke on condition of anonymity to talk to reporters. The different accounts on the casualties could not immediately be reconciled.

There was also no claim of responsibility for the explosions. Nusrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the blasts were due to mortar shells being fired and that one person has been arrested. Rahimi declined to answer questions on casualties.

The ceremony was commemorating the 1995 death of prominent minority Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari, who was killed by the Taliban. Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai attended the gathering.

There were hundreds of people at the ceremony, said Azizullah Amini, who was in the audience at the commemoration, held at a huge hall on the western edge of Kabul, in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood.

Amini told The Associated Press he heard at least four explosions and that the hall shook as if something was slamming into the ground outside the building. The ceremony quickly ended as people were rattled by the blasts.

Both the Taliban and the Islamic State group stage near-daily attacks across Afghanistan, including in the capital of Kabul.

The IS affiliate has in the past often targeted the ethnic Hazaras, a mainly Shiite Muslim minority in Sunni majority Afghanistan. IS has declared war on Shiites, considering them heretics and attacking their mosques and educational institutions.

The militant group has often struck in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, where Hazaras dominate. The Taliban, by contrast, have distanced themselves from attacks on Shiites in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, IS claimed responsibility for an attack on Wednesday on a construction company in eastern Nangarhar province that killed at least 17 people and triggered an hours-long gunbattle with Afghan forces, assisted by U.S. troops. The militant group on an affiliated website posted photographs of the two suicide bombers, both Afghan nationals.

The dawn assault started with a suicide bombing outside the gates of a construction company by the airport in Jalalabad, the provincial capital. Afghan officials said a total of five attackers were involved and that all were killed, including two suicide bombers.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the Taliban waged a blistering four-hour battle with security forces on Wednesday night in northern Kunduz province, in the Qalay Zul district, killing seven policemen, according to Mohammad Yosuf Ayubi, chairman of the provincial council. Ayubi said 90 percent of the district is now in Taliban hands.

And early on Thursday, the Taliban killed four Afghan border patrol officers in western Herat province, near the border with Iran, said Gelani Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Attacks have continued in Afghanistan despite stepped-up U.S. efforts to find a negotiated resolution of the 17-year war, America’s longest.

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is currently holding talks with the Taliban in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, where the insurgents have a political office. The latest round of talks is now in its second week, which has raised expectations that there could be some progress.

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Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

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