Explosions in Afghan capital Kabul kill six during new year festival

KABUL (Reuters) - (This March 21 story has been refiled to fix the spelling of a name in paragraph seven.)

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Several explosions in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Thursday killed six people and wounded 23 in an attack during celebrations to mark the Persian new year, government spokesmen said.

The attacks came on Nowruz, an ancient Persian festival to mark the start of spring that is widely celebrated in Afghanistan but has also faced opposition from some hardline Islamists, who say it is un-Islamic.

There were conflicting reports about of the cause of the blasts near the Kart-e Sakhi shrine, in a heavily Shi’ite Muslim area in the west of Kabul.

An interior ministry spokesman said mortar bombs had been fired. The defense ministry said in a post on twitter that three rockets were fired at civilian homes and Nowruz gatherings.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s news agency AMAQ said, without providing evidence of its claim.

Broken windows and collapsed walls were visible on homes and shops near the blast site. Blood stained the side of the road.

“It was terrible,” said Sayed Samim Sadat, a shopkeeper, who said he and his family were unhurt. “We were all sitting in our home and all the glass blew in on us.”

Elderly resident Haji Rajab Ali said he saw two explosions in front of him and later awoke to find himself in hospital.

Afghanistan’s defense ministry said police had arrested Thursday’s attacker and secured the area.

The attack happened two weeks after a mortar attack on a Shi’ite Muslim gathering in Kabul that killed 11 people. Islamic State also claimed responsibility for that attack.

Shi’ites are a minority group in Afghanistan and they have been repeatedly attacked by Sunni Muslim militant groups.

Violence has been relentless in Afghanistan even though Taliban militants are in talks with U.S. officials.

The latest round of talks wrapped up this month, with both sides citing progress, but no agreement to end the 17-year war.

The Taliban are fighting to expel foreign forces and to oust the Western-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani.

Additional reporting by Rod Nickel and Hamid Shalizi in Kabul, and Hesham Hajali in Cairo; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alison Williams