Gunmen dressed in white lab coats stormed the Sardar Daud Khan hospital in the centre of the capital on Wednesday, firing shots, detonating explosives and then battling security forces for hours. The assault resulted in death of more than 40 people.
“We are assessing Daesh (ISIL) claims to yesterday’s attack, but at this stage we can’t make a prejudgment prior to conclusion of investigation,” Sediq Sediqqi, the spokesperson of the Afghan ministry of interior said in a tweet.
“Brutal terrorist groups like ISIS (ISIL), Taliban, Haqqani and many other regional terrorist networks with safe havens in Pakistan have been behind many horrific attacks in the past,” he added.
US military officials state ISIL has about 700 fighters in Afghanistan. The group has claimed responsibility for attacks that resulted in large number of casualties, one of them being a twin suicide bombing at a protest march in Kabul last year, that left at least 80 people dead.
‘ISIL not strong enough’
As reports emerged of ISIL’s claim of responsibility for the attack on the hospital, analysts said the group does not have the capacity to conduct an attack “of this nature, as it is still trying to gain a foothold in the east of the country”.
“ISIL does exist in Afghanistan, but for them to conduct an attack like this in an area that is heavily guarded and with this caliber that killed so many people, it doesn’t seem possible, as they are still trying to gain territories in eastern Afghanistan, while fighting the Taliban,” Inayatullah Kakar, an Afghan security and political analyst, told Al Jazeera.
The relationship between the two countries soured amid the border clashes and a wave of deadly attacks in Pakistan, including one on a Sufi shrine in Sehwan last month. Pakistan has since tightened border restrictions.
“Pakistan blames Kabul for sheltering Tehreek-e-Taliban elements while the Afghan government accuses Pakistan for supporting the Afghan Taliban,” Kakar said.
Kakar also said the situation at the moment in Afghanistan was fluid and that it could not be determined whether the Taliban were involved in the hospital attack, or any other armed group.
“This hospital was previously attacked by the Taliban, and some of observers in Kabul believe it could the Taliban this time as well, but now the Taliban is looking into having a better political image. So when the civilian casualties are high, they deny involvement as now they are trying to make peace with the Afghan government,” Kakar added.
Roughly 70 percent of the ISIL fighters in Afghanistan are largely made up of members from the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an armed group waging a rebellion against the Pakistani state, according to General Nicholson, a top US commander in Afghanistan.
Nicholson said that these fighters were forced out of Pakistan by the Zarb-e-Azb military operation in an effort to wipe out fighters and their bases in the North Waziristan tribal area.
He added that many ISIL fighters in Nangarhar province came from Pakistan tribal agencies.
‘My death was near’
He heard gun shots and went downstairs to inquire, coming face-to-face with one of the armed fighters.
“He was wearing a white lab coat and was carrying an automatic weapon. He looked me in the eye and I froze,” Noor told Al Jazeera.
“I told him I don’t know who you are, but I am a doctor, don’t shoot me.
“That is all I could think of saying and ran. He screamed saying: “I am going to shoot you,” but I managed to run back to the third floor and took three of my patients with me and hid in a storage room.”
Afghan army forces battled the fighters for seven hours, while evacuating survivors from the building. A member of the security forces eventually found Noor and his three patients in the storage room.
“‘The member of the security forces assured me that the fighter will kill him first, not me, so I should not worry. At that point, I was broken and messaged my mother to forgive me if I’ve ever hurt her, because I felt my death was near,” Noor said.
Another witness, Dr. Ikram Kakar, said, when he was evacuated through a window by the security forces, he saw the building “flooded with blood”.
“I don’t think the death toll is much higher than 30. The entire building was full of dead bodies and blood. I am still in shock and cannot forget the floor painted with blood.”
While funerals were under way on Thursday, many Afghans took to Twitter to condemn the attack.
— BILAL SARWARY (@bsarwary) March 9, 2017
— OCHA Afghanistan (@OCHAAfg) March 8, 2017
— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) January 10, 2017
The UN Security Council also condemned the attack in a statement released on Thursday and urged all states to cooperate with the Afghan government to bring those responsible to justice and to suppress the financing of “terrorism”.
The Human Rights Watch named the attack a war crime in a statement released on Wednesday.
Source: Al Jazeera News