A suicide bomber killed at least 14 people and wounded 60 at the entrance to Kabul international airport on Sunday, officials said, as scores gathered to welcome home Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum from exile.
Senior government officials, political leaders and supporters were leaving the airport after greeting the powerful ethnic Uzbek leader and former warlord when the explosion happened.
“This is the first time I have seen a suicide attack,” one witness told AFP.
“People were collecting human flesh with their hands,” he said, shaking as he spoke. “What is going on in Afghanistan?”
Dostum, clad in a Western suit and sunglasses and travelling in an armoured vehicle, was unharmed, his spokesman Bashir Ahmad Tayanj said.
Kabul Police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai said 14 people had been killed and 60 others wounded, adding that nine members of the security forces and traffic police were among the dead.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack through its official Amaq news agency late Saturday, according to the SITE intelligence monitoring group.
The suicide bomber was on foot, interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said, adding that civilians, including a child, and security force members were among the casualties.
Dostum, who is linked to a catalogue of human rights abuses in Afghanistan, was mobbed like a celebrity as he left the chartered plane from Turkey, where he has lived since May 2017.
His return, which has been the subject of much speculation, comes amid violent protests in several provinces across northern Afghanistan, his traditional power base.
Thousands of Dostum’s supporters have taken to the streets in recent weeks, shuttering election and government offices and blocking sections of highways to demand the release of a pro-government militia leader and to call for Dostum’s return.
Expectations of the return did little to quell the unrest, with protesters vowing Sunday to continue demonstrating until the burly leader of the Uzbek ethnic minority tells them otherwise.
“We don’t trust the government. We will continue our protests unless General Dostum tells us to stop,” Ehsanullah Qowanch, a protest leader in Faryab province, told AFP.