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Suicide Blast Kills More Than 30 In Afghanistan


At least 30 people were killed in Afghanistan today when a man with a suicide vest full of explosives blew himself up outside a local bank in Jalalabad. More than 100 people were injured. The bombing was the latest in a string of attacks near the eastern city. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attacks. Earlier today, I spoke with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman in Afghanistan's capital of Kabul.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: It appears in this attack, there were mostly, if not all, civilians killed in this attack - men, women and children. And the bank has been a Taliban target in the past. There was a deadly attack there back in 2011, but in this case, the Taliban denied any responsibility for it.

RATH: And there have also been reports that a group affiliated with the so-called Islamic State could be involved in the bombing. Where's that information coming from?

BOWMAN: Well, a former Pakistani Taliban leader who now claims to represent ISIS in the region - he put out a statement to local Afghan media saying the Islamic State is responsible for this suicide attack. But this all is unclear. What we do know is they did capture at least one person at the scene thought to be involved. So there'll be an investigation here to try to get to the bottom of this.

Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani put out a statement just echoing that ISIS is claiming responsibility, again, according to this former Taliban official who claims he is working for ISIS. And we're told both the Afghan and U.S. government here - they're continuing to investigate this, and it's possible we could get a little more information in the coming days.

RATH: Well, what do we know about ISIS' activity, if there is any, in Afghanistan?

BOWMAN: Well, it's funny. We were talking with some U.S. officials about this just over the last few days, and they say, you know, there appears to be some recruitment by ISIS around Afghanistan. And also, the, you know - every once in a while, the black flags of ISIS seem to be flying here and there. And some officials think it might just be opportunists - people who are trying to get, you know, publicity for themselves, maybe try to get money from ISIS, which, of course, is based in Syria and Iraq. It could be people who broke with the Taliban for whatever reason and are trying to, again, to play themselves up.

So some people say, listen, this is something we have to keep an eye on, we have to watch. But a lot of people are saying, listen, this is a wait-and-see kind of thing. We're not sure if ISIS is going to make any inroads in Afghanistan. This is clearly Taliban territory.

RATH: So but if this is ISIS or even another non-Taliban group, what does that mean for what's happening on the ground now in Afghanistan?

BOWMAN: Well, it would just add one more, you know, element of violence in Afghanistan. Again, this is a very violent area. There were two Taliban attacks here just in the past couple of weeks. The fighting season has just begun. And this area is very close to Pakistan, so a lot of Taliban are seeping across the border. And we'll definitely see more attacks around here and elsewhere in Afghanistan in the coming weeks and months.

RATH: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman in Afghanistan. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.