By Fahim Abed and Rod Nordland
May 6, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan — A bomb blast killed at least 14 Afghan civilians on Sunday as they lined up in a mosque to register to vote in coming national elections, according to officials.

The explosion was at least the sixth attack on voter registration activities in Afghanistan since the authorities last month began requiring citizens to register to vote in person at centers across the country.

According to Bashir Khan, a spokesman for the police department in Khost Province, explosives apparently had been hidden in the mosque and were detonated while some people were praying and others registering to vote.

He said that at least one woman was among those killed, and that 33 others had been wounded.

Mohammadin Mangal, deputy head of the health department for Khost, said that at least 12 bodies and the wounded had been taken to the hospital after the attack. (Some Afghans take the dead directly to funerals rather than to the hospital).

The attack occurred two weeks after a suicide bomber struck a voter registration office in Kabul, the capital, killing at least 57 people. The Islamic State in Afghanistan claimed that attack; Taliban insurgents denied any responsibility for it.

The Taliban also denied any role in the attack on Sunday.

Voter registration began on April 14, after voting cards issued in previous elections were invalidated because of widespread forgery. Citizens must now go to registration centers to have their national identity documents stamped to show that they can vote in the elections for the national parliament, planned for October.

The elections are three years behind the schedule mandated by the Afghan Constitution. A disastrous and disputed presidential election in 2014 led to widespread disagreement among political parties about how to conduct elections, both for Parliament this year and for presidency in 2019.

Voter registration has proceeded very slowly, according to officials. In addition to the attack on a registration center in Kabul on April 22, there have been at least four other attacks reported on registration centers or officials since the voter drive began.

Maliha Hassan, an election commissioner, said that 1.2 million Afghans had registered to vote so far, out of what is believed to be 14 million who are eligible. The registration process ends June 15, which, at the current rate, would leave most Afghan voters unregistered.
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“We don’t have a specific target for the number of people we expect to register,” Ms. Hassan said. “Let’s wait until the end of the process and see how many people register.”

Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s chief executive, in a recent speech blamed the slow registration drive on “insecurity, lack of trust in the government and lack of awareness.”

Follow Fahim Abed and Rod Nordland on Twitter: @fahimabed and @rodnordland.

Fahim Abed reported from Kabul, and Rod Nordland from London.