The Taliban set off a car bomb in central Afghanistan killing 12 people and wounding 179 others just as representatives of the militant group were taking part in a two-day conference in Qatar aimed at bringing peace to the troubled central Asian nation.
The attack in Ghazni, located about 240 miles south of the capital Kabul, targeted an office of the National Directorate of Security. However, many of the victims were students attending a nearby school, said Hasan Raza Yousafi, a provincial council member.
"Getting reports of a horrific attack in Ghazni in which schoolchildren were again victims. It is unfathomable to endanger children in this way. I strongly condemn this attack. Peace has never been more urgent and is the only path to ending terror and violence." U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said in a tweet from Doha, Qatar, where he is taking part in the talks.
Afghan Public Health Ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar told RFE/RL that 13 people who were in critical condition were transferred to hospitals in Kabul.
It’s the second attack in Ghazni in two days. At least two people were killed and some 20 others were wounded in a bomb blast inside the Mohammadiya mosque in Ghazni’s Khak-e-Ghariban area on July 6.
The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility for that attack.
The Taliban has been trying to seize control of Ghazni, a strategic town due to its proximity to Kabul and transport routes.
Ghazni is also situated near the tribal areas of northern Pakistan and its capture could enable the Taliban to move insurgents freely through the region.
On August 10 last year, more than 1,000 Taliban fighters charged the town, killing as many as 200. The Afghan National Security Forces beat them back after several days of fighting that left more than 1,000 wounded.
The July 7 attack comes as Taliban representatives meet in Doha for the seventh round of peace talks with the U.S., which is seeking to end its 17-year war in Afghanistan.
Washington is looking to seal a deal with the Taliban ahead of an Afghan presidential election scheduled for September to allow the withdrawal of foreign forces to begin.
The Taliban has so far refused to talk to the Afghan government, calling it a puppet of the West.