BAGHLAN, Afghanistan – Dozens of schoolchildren turned out to greet a team of 18 lawmakers who’d come from the capital to visit a sugar factory in northern Afghanistan. A teenager handed a bouquet of red, pink and white roses to one of the visiting dignitaries.
Moments later, bodies were sprawled across the hard-packed dirt. Blood, shoes, sandals, hats and notebooks were scattered about. Screams pierced the dusty air, faint echoes of the deafening blast.
At least 28 people were killed in the car bomb attack Tuesday in the country’s normally peaceful north. The dead included five parliament members as well as an unknown number of children.
U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai blamed the “the enemies of peace and security,” a euphemism often used for the militant Taliban. But such a spectacular attack could also have been the work of al-Qaida. The Taliban denied involvement.
Video obtained by AP Television News of the scene just before the blast shows schoolchildren, tribal elders and government officials lining the streets to greet the lawmakers as they were about to enter the sugar factory in Baghlan, a town about 95 miles north of the capital, Kabul.
Some of the children shook hands with the guests, and a teenager holding the bouquet of roses greeted the group, almost shouting in the Afghan language of Dari: “On behalf of the Islam Qala school students, we welcome you here.”
Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, a former commerce minister and a powerful member of the opposition party National Front, received the flowers.
Seconds later, Kazimi was dead.
“The children were standing on both sides of the street, and were shaking the hands of the officials, then suddenly the explosion happened,” said Mohammad Yousuf Fayez, a doctor at Baghlan’s main hospital.
The video does not show the explosion.
After the blast, two men carried the bloodied body of a boy by his limbs and put it on the ground. Men placed another body next to four others already laid out under a tree. Elsewhere, a body with a severed arm was lying amid rubble. Puddles of blood soaked the packed dirt around the scene of the bombing.
At least 42 of the 81 wounded were schoolchildren, Fayez said.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, and a purported Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied the militant group was involved.
“The Taliban doesn’t target civilians,” he said.