On 23 July 2016 a twin bombing occurred in the vicinity of Deh Mazang square in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, when the #Enlightenment_Movement protesters, mostly from the Hazara ethnic, were marching against a decision to bypass their region in the development of the TUTAP mega power project. At least 97 people were killed and 260 injured. The terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has claimed responsibility, however, the same group later on refused it.
The attack was the deadliest in Kabul since 2001 but was surpassed by a truck bombing in May 2017. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in a live television address, declared the following day (24 July) a day of national mourning and promised action against the culprits. In tribute to the victims, Ghani renamed the Dehmazang Square, where the attack took place, to the Enlightenment Martyrs' Square.
The Hazaras are the third largest ethnic group of Afghanistan, mostly Shia, forming between 19-25% of the Afghan population, which is mostly Sunni. Hazaras have been subject to discrimination and genocides since the establishment of the current Afghan state by Emir Abdur Rahman Khan in 1919. The Hazara community has long been persecuted by the Taliban, who came to power in 1996, overall resulting in thousands killed.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a Syria-based terror group who have committed various attacks against civilians on the Eurasian continent. ISIL's Afghanistan branch is small, based in the country's east near the Pakistani border. In March 2016, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani claimed that the group was 'wiped out of Afghanistan', after the group failed to expand and pose a serious threat to the government.
The Hazara of Afghanistan protested the decision to re-route the TUTAP project. The civil activists of Kabul organised a march to protest on 6 May 2016, naming the movement جنبش روشنایی (literally "Enlightenment Movement"). Subsequent negotiations between the protesters and government officials were inconclusive. Therefore, a second peaceful demonstration was organised on 23 July 2016.
Thousands of people attended the demonstration on 23 July 2016. It started west of Kabul at around 07:00 and ended at Deh Mazang Square, where the government had placed containers and trucks to stop demonstrators from marching towards the presidential palace. Protesters were planning to make camp here at the end of the protest.
Before the march, the government had warned organizers of the possibility of an attack.
At 14:30, two militants detonated explosive belts when protesters were returning home at the end of the demonstrations. Security agencies claim they had intelligence reports warning about movement of bombers.CNN reported, citing Afghan police, that a third attacker was killed before detonating his bomb, though only two attackers were described in the claim of responsibility.
United Nations – Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Tadamichi Yamamoto, Special Representative of Secretary-General for Afghanistan and the head of the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) condemned the terror attack on a peaceful demonstration in Kabul, describing the attack a "despicable crime".
Iran – Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif condemned the attack and expressed condolences to the Afghan government and people.
Pakistan – Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the attack in Kabul and expressed deep grief over loss of human lives and reiterated solidarity with the government and people of Afghanistan.
India – President Pranab Mukherjee condemned the perpetrators of the incident and extended condolences to the families whose beloved lost their lives in twin blasts and prayed for recovery of people wounded.
Turkey – Foreign Ministry strongly condemned that terrorist attack and wished God's mercy on those who lost their lives.
USA – White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated that United States "in the strongest terms" condemned the attack in Kabul, because it targeted people at a peaceful demonstration.
The Taliban, the predominant anti-government group in Afghanistan, denied any involvement in the attack and in a statement posted on their website termed the attack "a plot to ignite civil war". In a rare expression, the Taliban joined the Afghan government in condemning the attack.
United Nations special report on the attack
On 18 October 2016, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued a special human rights report "Attack on a Peaceful Demonstration in Kabul, 23 July 2016" following months of its investigation into the attack. In the report, the Mission concluded that the attack on the peaceful demonstration not only deliberately targeted civilians but also was a serious violation of international humanitarian law, which may amount to a war crime. The report reviewed the context of the demonstration, the planning and preparedness of Afghan Security Forces, their behaviour during the demonstration and immediate response to the attack and its aftermath. It also raised, where relevant, human rights concerns for authorities. The report also offered recommendations on the respect for fundamental human rights of all Afghans, including the rights of religious and ethnic communities, as well as the need for the completion and implement of a strategy to prevent violent extremism.