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A day of tensions between police and shopkeepers in the Afghan capital took a deadly turn Thursday when a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing at least 20 people, including 16 members of the city’s police forces, officials said.
Police had raided shops in the Banayee neighborhood on Wednesday on suspicion that their owners were selling illicit substances including alcohol and hashish, said Najib Danish, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry.
On Thursday, the shopkeepers took to the streets in protest, alleging that the police had killed one of them. When the police returned to the scene, the suicide bomber detonated the blast.
Hours later, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through the group’s own news service, Amaq. The Islamic State has a regional affiliate in Afghanistan, and has claimed a string of attacks in Kabul in recent weeks, including one on a Shiite cultural center last week that claimed nearly 50 lives.
Social media users in Kabul expressed unusual skepticism of the Islamic State’s claim this time around, as many locals suspect that the group’s suicide bombers come from areas near the Pakistan border or from within Pakistan.
Because the protests on Thursday seemed spontaneous, many doubted that an attacker could have made it from there to Kabul in time to intercept the police forces. Furthermore, the shops in Banayee are widely rumored to sell items ranging from narcotics to suicide vests.
Either way, the attack was yet another sign of rising violence and insecurity in Kabul.
The Islamic State has brought carnage to the city’s streets repeatedly. Its deadliest attack last year killed more than 150 people just outside the city’s “Green Zone” and forced numerous embassies to close. Thursday’s attack also took place within a mile of the diplomatic area.
Afghan Special Forces have been locked in battle with the Islamic State’s regional affiliate in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border, since the group emerged in 2014. U.S. Special Forces also regularly engage in combat there.
On Jan. 1, Sgt. First Class Mihail Golin, 34, was killed there, making him the first U.S. military casualty of 2018, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.
On Thursday, the State Department announced it would suspend most security assistance to Pakistan, expanding its retribution over militant safe havens that U.S. officials blame for ongoing violence in Afghanistan.
The Trump administration had previously said it would suspend $255 million in foreign military funding for Pakistan, meaning the new steps will have limited effect.
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