KABUL -- The wrestling mats were spattered with blood, the sports bags and water bottles still strewn across the floor Thursday (September 6), hours after a twin blast ripped through the Maiwand sports club in Kabul, killing more than 20 Afghans.
On a Wednesday (September 5) afternoon, a regular workout session turned into a bloodbath when a suicide bomber fatally shot a young, unarmed guard at the entrance of the sports club before blowing himself up near the scores of wrestlers, some of whom were as young as 10.
An hour later, a car packed with explosives detonated outside the club, apparently targeting first responders, reporters and emergency workers who had gathered at the scene.
Two journalists from TOLOnews, Afghanistan's largest private broadcaster, were among the dead. Four media workers were wounded.
"There were dead and wounded everywhere," 14-year-old wrestler Sayed Rohullah told AFP from his bed at Isteqlal Hospital, where dozens of casualties were taken after the twin blasts.
"Everyone was covered in glass and pieces of shrapnel, and shouting for their loved ones," he said. "After the explosion, I couldn't feel my legs."
Most of the deaths were caused by severe burns and shrapnel, doctors said.
Ali Seena, 20, said the wrestlers had been in the middle of the training session when they heard cracks of gunfire outside. He did not see the suicide bomber enter the room, but he felt the "flying shrapnel" as it pierced his abdomen.
ISIS claims responsiblity
The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the massacre, which killed at least 26 people and wounded 91, according to the Afghan health and interior ministries.
The real death toll could be much greater, said Pahlawan Shir, manager of the Maiwand sports club.
As many as 150 individauls were inside the hall in the heavily Shia neighbourhood at the time of the attack, he said.
"Some have already taken their martyrs home. I am still searching for many missing students and coaches."
ISIS, which has been militarily defeated in Iraq and Syria and relegated to inhospitable areas of Afghanistan, now regularly resorts to attacking "soft" targets, including those frequented by children.
ISIS has ramped up violence against the Shia religious minority group in recent years, whom the terrorist group considers apostates.
In the past year, Afghanistan's Shia population has been hit hard by ISIS, including in Kabul and other major cities. The last major attack on the Shia minority in Kabul was on August 15 when an ISIS suicide bomber blew himself up in an education centre, killing dozens of students.
On Thursday morning, grieving relatives, friends and colleagues began the grim process of burying their loved ones in dusty, barren cemeteries around Kabul.