Taliban deputy leader insists no hand in Kabul attacks

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Taliban deputy leader insists no hand in Kabul attacks

Kabul (AFP) - The head of the Taliban-allied Haqqani network has ruled out any involvement in a wave of deadly bombings in Kabul, reiterating the group's denial as it faces widespread condemnation.

The Afghan government has blamed the Haqqani network for a catastrophic truck bombing in Kabul's diplomatic quarter on May 31, the deadliest in the Afghan capital since 2001 which killed more than 150 people.

The Taliban disavowed any responsibility soon after the explosion, with the group's deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani repeating the denial in an audio message posted on the group's website on Sunday.

"We have already condemned the (attacks). The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) is not behind them," he said.

"The enemy wants to defame Mujahideen and create a distance between the nation and Mujahideen."

The bombing triggered angry protests and street clashes in Kabul on June 2, prompting police to respond with live rounds that left at least four people dead.

A day later, at least seven people were killed when suicide bombers tore through a row of mourners who were attending the funeral of one of the protesters.

The statements ruling out any Taliban hand in the bombings have fallen on sceptical ears in Kabul.

"Despite the Taliban's categorical denial, the attack bears all the hallmarks of the movement," Borhan Osman of the Afghanistan Analysts Network wrote in a recent assessment of the May 31 bombing.

"The movement's operational capacity and logistical access to plan and execute such a bombing is beyond question."

Haqqani also rejected it was behind a recent bombing near the Grand Mosque in western Herat city, which left seven people dead and 16 others wounded.

"Even if such incidents... have happened in the past, we have apologised and asked people for forgiveness," Haqqani said.

Since the Kabul truck bombing, protesters have set up sit-in camps in at least six locations around the capital, including one near the bombing site, demanding the resignation of President Ashraf Ghani's government.

In an apparent effort to appease the protesters, the Afghan government on Sunday sacked two top security officials including Kabul police chief over the killing of demonstrators on June 2.

Ghani, who is under public pressure to carry out security reforms, has also pledged a thorough investigation into the bombings, which drew an avalanche of global condemnation.