KABUL, Afghanistan — An explosion ripped through a packed wedding hall in Kabul late on Saturday evening, with Afghan officials fearing high casualties.
Nasrat Rahimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry, confirmed the explosion, but could not provide numbers on casualties. He said the blast, which local news media reports said was probably caused by a suicide bomber, had occurred near the stage in the wedding hall.
Local news media reports put the death toll at more than 30.
Photos from inside the hall showed wrecked tables and bodies strewn all over. Videos by witnesses showed panic outside as wailing family members looked for their loved ones.
“It was a sudden explosion inside; all my brothers, I can’t find any of them,” one young man, covered in blood, says in a video circulating on social media.
“The explosion was huge,” said Muhibullah Zeer, a Health Ministry official who was at the nearby Istiqlal hospital. “We are busy with collecting the data and shifting the wounded to hospitals. We don’t know how many were killed and how many were wounded.”
The Dubai City Wedding Hall is in the west of the Afghan capital, a neighborhood inhabited by ethnic Hazaras, who are largely Shiite.
The neighborhood has seen repeated suicide bombings in the past couple of years targeting so-called soft targets with minimal security, like mosques and education centers. Most of those previous attacks targeting Shiites have been claimed by the Islamic State, a Sunni extremist group that has kept a small but stubborn foothold in the country over the past few years.
The attack comes despite high security across Kabul, with preparations underway for the country’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of repelling an invasion by the British.
The attack also comes as the United States is nearing a deal with the Taliban, still responsible for the bulk of the insurgent violence, that could represent the beginning of an end to the 18-year American presence in the country.
Many Afghans have been skeptical of that imminent deal, negotiated between Taliban and United States officials over nine rounds of talks behind closed doors in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar. Despite American assurances, many Afghans fear that if the troop withdrawal is not gradual, the fragile country could see further deterioration.