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Islamic militancy

At least 80 dead, 350 wounded after powerful truck bomb explodes in Kabul diplomatic quarter

The neighbourhood is considered Kabul’s safest area, with foreign embassies protected by police and national security forces

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 1:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 11:31pm

A powerful bomb exploded in the morning rush hour in the centre of the Afghan capital on Wednesday, killing or wounding hundreds of people and sending clouds of black smoke into the sky above the presidential palace and foreign embassies, including China’s.

The explosion, one of the deadliest in Kabul and coming at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, occurred close to the fortified entrance to the German embassy on a road usually choked with traffic at that time of day, said Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for Kabul police.

“It was a car bomb near the German embassy, but there are several other important compounds and offices near there too. It is hard to say what the exact target is,” Mujahid said.

The blast, which shattered windows and blew doors off their hinges in houses hundreds of metres away, was unusually powerful, with some reports saying it was caused by explosives hidden in a water tanker.

A public health official said at least 80 people had been killed and more than 350 wounded. The victims appear mainly to have been Afghan civilians and there were no immediate reports of casualties among foreign embassy staff.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said the embassy in Kabul was one of those damaged, but said no Chinese were injured.

The offices of Xinhua news agency were also damaged but no injuries were reported, the China state-run news agency said.

The French and Turkish embassies were also damaged but both countries said there were no immediate signs of injured staff or diplomats.

Japan and Bulgaria also reported their missions being hit.

The BBC said one of its Afghan drivers was killed and four journalists injured in the attack.

Video shot at the scene showed burning debris, crumbled walls and buildings and destroyed cars, many with dead or injured people inside.

At the Wazir Akhbar Khan hospital a few blocks away, there were scenes of chaos as ambulances brought in wounded and frantic relatives scanned casualty lists and questioned hospital staff for news.

“It felt like an earthquake,” said 21-year-old Mohammad Hassan, describing the moment the blast struck the bank where he was working. His head wound had been bandaged but blood still soaked his white dress shirt.

Another lightly wounded victim, Nabib Ahmad, 27, said there was widespread destruction and confusion.

“I couldn’t think clearly, there was a mess everywhere,” he said.

Later, another frenzy broke out outside the hospital as ambulances and police trucks began bringing in the bodies of those killed. Some bodies were burned or destroyed beyond recognition.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the blast.

“India stands with Afghanistan in fighting all types of terrorism. Forces supporting terrorism need to be defeated,” he said in a tweet.

Both the Taliban and Islamic State have carried out high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months but there was no immediate claim of responsibility. A spokesman for Taliban insurgents said he was gathering information.

However the attack provided another clear demonstration that Ramadan, which began at the weekend, would provide little respite from the violence across Afghanistan.

US President Donald Trump is due to decide soon on a recommendation to send 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to bolster the small Nato training force and US counterterrorism mission now totalling just over 10,000.

The commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, told a congressional hearing earlier this year that he needed several thousand more troops to help Afghan forces break a “stalemate” with the Taliban.