Six people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in Kabul Monday, close to where scores of Afghans had been protesting against Taliban attacks on the minority Hazara ethnic group.
The attack is the latest in a wave of violence across war-torn Afghanistan as the Taliban intensify pressure on beleaguered government security forces, which are suffering record-high casualties.
Interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish said 20 were wounded in the blast, which struck in front of a high school in the downtown area of the Afghan capital.
Initial reports indicated most of the victims were members of the security forces, but Danish said civilians, including several women, had borne the brunt of the carnage.
A photo shared on WhatsApp showed several bodies lying on the ground.
“The suicide attacker on foot wanted to target protesters, but he was stopped at a security checkpoint some 200 metres (yards) from the site,” interior ministry deputy spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said.
A police officer at the scene said he saw 10 to 15 casualties on the ground, as well as body parts.
The centre of Kabul was blanketed with heavier-than-usual security for the protest, which began on Sunday night and continued into Monday.
“It was a huge blast near Istiqlal high school, very close to where the demonstrators were gathering,” witness Qais Nawabi told AFP.
The Islamic State group (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack, its propaganda agency Amaq said.
IS has claimed most suicide attacks in Kabul in recent months.
Demonstrators, including university students, had taken to the streets to demand the deployment of military reinforcements to two Hazara-dominated districts in the southeastern province of Ghazni which have been attacked by the Taliban.
In other violence, a Taliban attack on Khak Safid district in the western province of Farah overnight killed up to 40 local police and civilians, provincial council member Dadullah Qaneh told AFP.
“They set the houses of local police members on fire, killed women and children and local police,” Qaneh said. Provincial police spokesman Mohibullah Mohib confirmed the attack, but had no information on the number of casualties.