A suicide attack on an office of the Afghan Voice news agency and a neighboring Shi'ite cultural centre in the capital Kabul killed dozens on Thursday, officials and witnesses said, with many of the victims students attending a conference.
Interior ministry deputy spokesperson Nasrat Rahimi said at least 40 people had been killed and 30 wounded in the blast; the latest in a series to have hit media organisations in Kabul.
The attack occurred during a morning panel discussion on the 38th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Sunni-majority Afghanistan at the Tabian Social and Cultural Centre. Many of those attending were students, witnesses said.
Sayed Abbas Hussaini, a journalist at the agency, said there appeared to have been more than one explosion during the attack, following an initial blast at the entrance to the compound housing the two offices. He said one reporter at the agency had been killed and two wounded.
Photographs sent by witnesses showed what appeared to be serious damage at the site, in a heavily Shi'ite Muslim area in the west of the capital, and a number of dead and wounded on the ground.
Deputy health minister Feda Mohammad Paikan said 35 bodies had been brought into the nearby Istiqlal hospital. Television pictures showed that many of the injured suffered serious burns.
President Ashraf Ghani's spokesperson issued a statement calling the attack an "unpardonable" crime against humanity and pledging to destroy terrorist groups.
Afghan Voice has Shi'ite links, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement on Twitter denying involvement.
The attack, the latest in a series to hit Afghan media groups in recent years, follows an attack on a private television station in Kabul last month.
Backed by the heaviest U.S. air strikes since the height of the international combat mission in Afghanistan, Afghan forces have forced the Taliban back in many areas and prevented any major urban centre from falling into the hands of insurgents.
But high-profile attacks in the big cities have continued, as militants have looked for other ways to make an impact and undermine confidence in security. Islamic State, which is opposed to both the Taliban and the Western-backed government, has claimed a growing share of such attacks.
"This gruesome attack underscores the dangers faced by Afghan civilians," rights group Amnesty International said in a statement from its South Asia director, Biraj Patnaik. "In one of the deadliest years on record, journalists and other civilians continue to be ruthlessly targeted by armed groups."
According to a report this month by media freedom group Reporters Without Borders, Afghanistan is among the world's most dangerous countries for media workers. Even before Thursday's attack, two journalists and five media assistants had been killed doing their jobs in 2017.
#AJSC condemns in the strongest terms possible this morning's suicide #terroristattack on the office of the #AfghanVoice news agency in west of #Kabul. This follows another deadly attack on @Shamshadnewstv— Af Journalist Safety (@ajsc_afg) December 28, 2017
recently. AJSC's gone to the scene for aid. https://t.co/FeFUY6U08d