ISLAMABAD - Afghan officials said Saturday a roadside bomb blast in Kabul has killed two members of the national human rights monitoring group.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said its female donor coordinator, 24-year-old Fatima Khalil, and a driver were traveling to their office in the morning when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in an eastern part of the capital.
The commission condemned the attack, saying it was "deeply shaken" by the loss of its employees. "Those responsible should be identified after an investigation and brought to justice for committing this terrible crime," read a press release.
No one immediately took responsibility for the bombing, the latest in a string of high-profile targeted killings in Kabul in recent weeks that remain unclaimed. They include attacks on highly respected Afghan clerics, civil society representatives and four members, including two lawyers, of the country's Attorney General's office, who were gunned down last week.
Militants have previously carried out deadly attacks against members of the constitutionally mandated AIHRC. Afghan officials usually blame Taliban insurgents for the violence.
U.S. ambassador to Kabul Ross Wilson denounced the attack on the AIHRC as unacceptable, calling for end to the ongoing cycle of violence and the "impunity and indignity" of such attacks on Afghans.
"Recently, we and this country's citizens have grieved the deaths of Afghan security forces, innocent civilians, religious scholars, representatives of Afghanistan's judicial system, and now those who defend human rights and liberty. These attacks must end," Wilson tweeted.
The commission has lately stepped up its campaign to seek a "clear role" for women in the proposed peace talks between the Taliban and representatives of a broader Afghan society to monitor respect for human rights.
Shaharzad Akbar, the chairperson of AIHRC, told a special United Nations meeting earlier this week that "only an inclusive process with human rights at its heart can lead to lasting peace and prevent a return to conflict" in Afghanistan.
During their five-year rule in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the Islamist group, among other controversial policies, barred girls from seeking an education and women from working outdoors.
Afghan and Taliban officials have said their peace dialogue will be held in Qatar, where the insurgent group maintains its office, soon after an ongoing prisoner swap between the two adversaries is concluded.
The prisoner exchange and the intra-Afghan negotiations, which are aimed at discussing a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing arrangement, are the key provisions of a landmark deal the United States signed with the Taliban in February.
The Afghan government has so far freed nearly 4,000 Taliban prisoners and is in the process of releasing the remaining 1,000. The insurgents have set free more than 600 of the promised 1,000 Afghan security forces in their custody.
The U.S.-Taliban agreement requires all American and coalition troops to withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2021 in return for the Taliban's counterterrorism guarantees and political reconciliation with rival Afghan groups.
Meanwhile, the Taliban has denied allegations that it had received bounties from Russian intelligence operatives to kill American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
"The 19-year jihad of the Islamic Emirate (the Taliban) is not indebted to the beneficence of any intelligence organ or foreign country," said a Taliban statement issued Saturday.
In a story published Friday in The New York Times, unnamed officials were quoted as saying that elements linked to Russia's military intelligence service had been giving rewards to Taliban fighters to encourage them to launch attacks on international forces.
The Russian Embassy in Washington also rejected the report as "baseless and anonymous accusations," saying it has led to direct threats to the life of employees at its diplomatic mission in the U.S.
"Stop producing #fakenews that provoke life threats, @nytimes," the embassy wrote on its official Twitter account.