KABUL (Reuters) - A suicide bomb attack in the Afghan capital near a meeting of supporters of an influential regional leader on Thursday killed at least nine people and wounded many, the interior ministry said.
Islamic State claimed responsibility, according to Amaq, its official news agency. The Taliban denied involvement.
Atta Mohammad Noor, governor of the northern province of Balkh and a leader of the mainly ethnic Tajik Jamiat-i-Islami party, was not at the meeting at the time of the attack, members of the party said.
Political tensions are rising as politicians have begun jockeying for position ahead of presidential elections expected in 2019 and thousands of civilians have been killed in attacks this year.
The bomber approached the hotel hosting the gathering on foot but was spotted by a police official, Sayed Basam Padshah, as he neared a security checkpoint, an interior ministry spokesman said.
The attacker triggered his explosives vest before he could get any further, Kabul police chief Basir Mujahid told Reuters.
Padshah was among the seven policemen and two civilians killed.
“He saved many lives by sacrificing his life,” Mujahid said.
The northern-based Jamiat-i-Islami was for years the main opponent of the Taliban, who draw their support largely from the southern-based ethnic Pashtun community.
A witness to Thursday’s bombing said: “We are proud to be martyred because of our country and our rights. This gathering was for the sake of our country to raise our voice.”
In June, a suicide bomber attacked a meeting of Jamiat-i-Islami leaders, including Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Abdullah, who is supported by ethnic minority leaders including Noor who fought against the Taliban’s hard-line Islamist regime in the 1990s, formed a coalition government with President Ashraf Ghani after a disputed 2014 presidential election.
Ghani on Wednesday sacked the chairman of the Independent Election Commission, raising doubts over whether parliamentary and council ballots scheduled for next year will take place as planned.
Additional teporting by Mirwais Harooni, Mohammad Aziz and Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi; Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Nick Macfie and Robin Pomeroy