At least 34 are dead and 58 wounded in a Thursday car bomb attack outside a bank in Helmand, a southern province in Afghanistan. The explosion, carried out by a lone suicide bomber, targeted Afghan security personnel who were waiting to collect their salaries ahead of Eid-al-Fitr, or the “festival of breaking the fast,” a Muslim holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan. The Taliban has since claimed responsibility for the attack, citing a higher death toll.
While the group argued that no civilians were killed in the explosion, government officials say the majority of the deceased are civilians. Some were waiting to collect their salaries outside a branch of the New Kabul Bank in Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital, while others were shopping for the Eid festival. A local policeman at the scene said that children were among the wounded. The AP reports that a 12-year-old girl named Hosnia was left searching for her father and brother outside the bank after her father promised to take her shoe shopping for the holiday.
Both the timing and location of the attack appear to be strategic. Ramadan often marks a period of increased violence for Islamist militant groups, who seek martyrdom during what they consider to be “the holy month of jihad.” In May, a Taliban spokesman reportedly referred to violence as “an obligatory worship,” adding that “every obligatory act of worship has 70 times more reward in Ramadan.” It is also common for the Taliban to attack Afghan bank buildings, which are all but guaranteed to attract security forces seeking their monthly salaries. Last month, an attack on a New Kabul Bank branch in Paktia, an eastern Afghan province, resulted in at least three deaths.