KABUL -- Minutes after Ahmad Fareed took a seat among hundreds of religious scholars at a ceremony to mark the birthday of Prophet Mohammad in a hall in Kabul, a huge explosion shook the room, throwing Fareed to the floor.
Scattered around him were the bloodied bodies of men who had taken the full force of the suicide blast and probably saved his life.
"It was absolute horror, people dead and wounded, covered in blood and pieces of flesh," Fareed, 40, told AFP Wednesday (November 21) as he lay in a hospital bed with leg and shoulder injuries.
"My friend and his little son were also next to me, covered in blood and not moving."
At least 55 Afghans were killed and 94 wounded when the bomber blew himself up in the middle of the banquet hall at the Uranus Wedding Palace Tuesday evening (November 20), one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan this year.
A video posted on social media purportedly filmed by one of the attendees showed a large gathering of men listening to a recitation of the Koran before an explosion triggered pandemonium.
On Wednesday morning, as cleaners prepared the multi-storey venue for more events, bloodied turbans, sandals, overturned chairs and broken glass still littered the cavernous room where the massacre happened.
An 'unforgivable crime'
The attack drew widespread condemnation in Afghanistan and abroad, with the United Nations describing it as an "atrocity."
The US ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass, said he was "sickened and deeply saddened" by the bombing, while the European Union delegation to Afghanistan said the explosion was "an attack on all of us, religious or not, who value freedom".
President Ashraf Ghani declared Wednesday a national day of mourning for the victims of the attack, which he described as an "unforgivable crime".
Security at the wedding hall included a body search by an armed guard followed by physical checks by several religious students, said Obaidullah, one of the attendees who survived the explosion but suffered multiple injuries to his face and body.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, though the Taliban were quick to condemn the blast. The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) terrorist group, which has claimed most suicide attacks in Kabul this year, has not yet issued a statement.
Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah pointed the finger of blame at the Taliban.
"Whether they deny it or they don't, they have created that sort of an environment; they are responsible for the violence," he told AFP in an interview in Paris, where he was attending an international conference.
It is not clear why the religious scholars were targeted on one of the holiest days in the Islamic calendar.
Most of the attendees at the gathering were Sufis, said Mehrab Danish, an adviser to the religious affairs minister, referring to the devotees of mystical Islamic beliefs.
"But it is too early to say they were targeted because they were followers of Sufism," he cautioned.
While Muslims around the world celebrate the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, some fundamentalists criticise the events as heretical innovations in Islam.