The Taliban on Saturday said that two civilians had died in an explosion at a cricket stadium in Afghanistan's capital Kabul.
The Kabul International Cricket Stadium was on Friday hit by a hand grenade explosion during a cricket game in a domestic tournament. While no one has so far claimed responsibility, the blame is likely to fall on the terrorist group ISIS — the Taliban's chief rivals since they took over the country a year ago as the US and NATO withdrew from the country.
Earlier, 13 people were reported wounded in the blast. The Italian-run Emergency Hospital in Kabul had confirmed on Twitter that 12 of the wounded were hospitalised while one other patient was treated and discharged.
On Saturday, the Taliban-appointed Kabul police spokesman, Khalid Zadran, said that two people had died. It wasn't immediately clear if the two had died instantly or later in hospital.
The game, between cricket teams Band-e-Amir Dragons and Pamir Zalmi, was briefly halted due to the explosion but later continued. The match was part of the domestic T20 Shpageza Cricket league games held every year. Cricket is a hugely popular sport in Afghanistan. Several hundred people had gathered to watch the match. Videos surfaced online of the aftermath of the attack.
Since the Taliban takeover last August, the regional affiliate of ISIS —known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP)— has claimed attacks in Kabul and other parts of the country. It is operating in Afghanistan since 2014 and has emerged as the greatest security challenge facing Afghanistan's Taliban rulers. The Taliban have launched sweeping crackdowns against ISIS, which has a foothold in eastern Nangarhar province.
Friday's attack was widely condemned, including by Ramiz Alakbarov, the deputy at the UN mission in Afghanistan, who was at the stadium at the time of the attack but was unharmed. He was to address the Afghan Cricket Association.
While the Taliban confirmed just two deaths, the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said at least 19 civilians were killed in a tweet condemning the blast.
He said, "I strongly condemn Friday's attack at the Kabul International Cricket Stadium, which claimed the lives of at least 19 civilians and caused additional casualties. Attacks against civilians and civilian objects are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law."
I strongly condemn Friday’s attack at the Kabul International Cricket Stadium, which claimed the lives of at least 19 civilians & caused additional casualties.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) July 29, 2022
Attacks against civilians and civilian objects are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.
This is not the first attack on cricket in Afghanistan. Notably, the Taliban had banned cricket completely when it first ruled Afghanistan in 1996-2001.
On May 18 2018, four explosives rocked a cricket stadium in Afghanistan's Jalalabad. Eight people were killed and 55 were wounded.
In September 2017, three people were killed and five were injured in a suicide bombing at a cricket match in Kabul. The terrorist group ISIS had claimed responsibility.
There have been other instances of violence directed at cricket.
In February 2018, a grenade attack was reported at the house of Afghan national cricket team member Hamid Hassan. The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) at the time ruled out the involvement of the terror groups and said the criminal gangs had earlier demanded money from the family of Hassan, according to Khaama news agency.
In January 2014, a gunman killed five local cricket players in Laghman province. The Independent newspaper reported a provincial spokesman at the time saying that the Taliban may be behind the attack as when it had imposed severe restrictions on sports and public celebrations when it ruled the country during 1996-2001.
(With AP inputs)