September 18, 2019 / 9:50 AM / a month ago

Suicide bomber and gunmen hit eastern Afghanistan gov't office

JALALABAD/KABUL (Reuters) - A suicide bomber and gunmen wounded at least nine people, including a child and a woman, in an attack on a government building in eastern Afghan on Wednesday, officials said.

FILE PHOTO: Members of a Taliban delegation, led by chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (C, front), leave after peace talks with Afghan senior politicians in Moscow, Russia May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo

The attackers detonated explosives before gunmen poured into the building, said the officials. The office is a distribution center in the city of Jalalabad for national identity cards, which people need to vote in Afghanistan’s presidential election in 10 days.

“Afghan security forces surrounded the building and are clashing with the attackers in a bid to counter the attack,” said Sohrab Qaderi, a council member for the city’s province of Nangarhar, adding that more casualties are feared with staff and other people stuck in the building.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Much of Afghanistan is on high alert in the days approaching the election, the country’s fourth presidential poll since United States-led forces toppled the hardline Islamist Taliban in 2001. The insurgents have sworn to violently disrupt the vote, which comes in the aftermath of collapsed peace talks between the militants and the United States.

Roughly 9.6 million people, about a third of them women, have registered to vote, but roughly one in twelve polling centers may not open because of security threats.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Taliban warned teachers, students and other education workers to avoid the upcoming presidential vote or risk dying in attacks on election centers.

“Do not allow election organizers to turn your schools and institutions into electoral centers, and teachers and students should not work as electoral staff,” said the Taliban statement.

“We do not want to cause the loss of lives and financial losses for civilians, teachers and students,” it said.

Schools and universities make up between seven and eight out of every ten polling centers across the country, and though no students, teachers or education officials are being hired as election workers, they can volunteer, said Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s election commission.

“We are committed to holding elections on the announced date, and such threats from the Taliban cannot prevent us from holding them,” the spokesman said.

A Ministry of Education spokeswoman, Nooria Nazhat, said they had not wanted to use schools and other education centers as polling stations but had been forced to, despite the destruction of schools in parliamentary elections last year.

The United Nations and international donors had asked the ministry to help with the presidential elections because of its relatively developed infrastructure.

On Tuesday, Taliban attackers killed nearly 50 people in separate suicide bombings, one targeting an election rally for incumbent President Ashraf Ghani, who is seeking a second five-year term.

Last week, peace talks between the United States and the Taliban collapsed. The two sides had been seeking to reach an accord on the withdrawal of thousands of American troops from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees from the insurgents.

The negotiations, which did not include the Afghan government, were intended as a prelude to wider peace negotiations to end more than more 40 years of war in Afghanistan.

Reporting by Ahmad Sultan in Jalalabad and Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi in Kabul; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Toby Chopra

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