Islamic State fighters have attacked a prison in eastern Afghanistan holding scores of the group’s members, killing at least 21 people.
Another 43 people have been wounded in the assault, which began late on Sunday when an Isis suicide bomber slammed his explosive-laden vehicle into the prison entrance in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province. Militants then opened fire on security forces at the facility, which is about 70 miles (115km) east of Kabul.
Three attackers have been killed so far but the battle has continued into Monday, with sporadic gunfire in the prison grounds, according to Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province. The dead included civilians, prisoners, guards and Afghan security forces, Khogyani said.
Police believe several militants slipped away into a nearby residential complex, making it more difficult to flush them out.
Afghan security and defence personnel in armoured vehicles surrounded the prison, which is half a mile from the governor’s office. Soldiers were still evacuating residents from the area as sporadic gunshots rang out.
Isis’s affiliate in Afghanistan, known as IS in Khorasan Province, has claimed responsibility for the attack. The affiliate is headquartered in Nangarhar province.
The motive for the attack was not immediately clear. However, some prisoners had escaped during the fighting, said another provincial official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The prison houses about 1,500 inmates, of which several hundred are believed to be Isis members. The attack came a day after authorities said Afghan special forces had killed a senior Isis commander near Jalalabad.
While Isis’s so-called caliphate stretching across Iraq and Syria has gradually been eliminated after a long campaign, the group has continued fighting in Afghanistan. They have battled the Taliban, whom the US overthrew following the 2001 American-led invasion.
The Taliban’s political spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told the Associated Press that his group was not involved in the Jalalabad attack. The US struck a peace deal with the Taliban in February.
A second, crucial round of negotiations between the Taliban and the political leadership in Kabul has yet to start. But Washington and Nato have begun withdrawing troops in line with the deal.
“We have a ceasefire and are not involved in any of these attacks anywhere in the country,” Shaheen said.
The Taliban declared a three-day ceasefire starting on Friday for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. The ceasefire expired on Monday though it was not immediately clear if it would be extended as the US pushes for an early start to intra-Afghan negotiations that have repeatedly been delayed since Washington signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February.
The Taliban have also denied being involved in a suicide bombing in eastern Logar province on Thursday that killed at least nine people and wounded 40.
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