LASHKARGAH, Afghanistan -- At least 34 people were killed Thursday (June 22) when a powerful car bomb struck a bank in Lashkargah as government employees and other customers were queueing to withdraw salaries ahead of Eid ul Fitr.
Dozens of survivors were rushed to hospital on makeshift stretchers after the bombing at New Kabul Bank, which upturned vehicles, left the area littered with charred debris and sent a plume of smoke into the sky, AFP reported.
It was the third attack on that bank since 2014. It comes as the Taliban ramp up their nationwide "spring offensive" despite government calls for a cease-fire during Ramadan.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, saying their target was Afghan soldiers and police on their way to draw salaries. The government said most of the victims were civilians, including women and children.
"At least 34 people were killed and 58 others wounded in today's bombing," the Helmand provincial government said in a statement.
"The suicide attack in front of New Kabul Bank in Helmand is not the first attack targeting and killing civilians, nor will it be the last," Nader Shah Bahr, an Afghan MP from Ghor Province, told Salaam Times. "It happened in the past, and it will continue in the future."
By killing the innocent, the Taliban want to create fear and show that the government is weak, he said. They want to create distance between society and the government, but they are failing, he added.
Exploiting opium revenues
The Taliban effectively control or contest 10 of the 14 districts in Helmand, blighted by a huge opium harvest that helps fund the insurgency, and have repeatedly threatened to seize Lashkargah.
All militant activities are unacceptable according to Islam, said Salem Hasani, a Kabul based religious scholar.
"The killing of innocents, the killing of a believer without religious accusations ... the destruction of public facilities, the creation of panic and fear in society, and attacks on sacred sites and places of worship are forbidden from the point of view of Islam," he told Salaam Times.
Sometimes the militants claim they are doing "jihad", he said, but they should understand that what are they doing is not true jihad.
"When the militants are defeated in a combat mission, they kill innocent civilians," said Sefatullah, a 37-year-old Helmand resident.
"We strongly condemn this kind of attack and will stand against this kind of barbaric attack," he told Salaam Times.
[Najibullah from Kabul contributed to this report.]