Blast rocks Afghan capital, at least 28 killed, close to state buildings, US embassy

552

Kabul (Reuters), April 19: A Taliban suicide bomb and gun assault on a government security building during Tuesday morning rush hour in central Kabul killed at least 28 people and wounded more than 320, in the most deadly single attack in the Afghan capital since 2011.

President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms” in a statement from the presidential palace, only a few hundred meters away from the scene of the blast.

Several people were killed and wounded in the blast, which struck at the height of the morning peak hour, the palace said.

Witnesses described chaotic scenes after the blast.

“I was here when a huge explosion happened,” said Amir, who works in a nearby restaurant. “I saw three boys with severe heads injuries. My uncle was injured and my brother is missing, I don’t know what happened to him.”

It was the worst single militant strike in Kabul since 2011, when about 60 people died in a suicide blast outside a mosque, and will reinforce concerns in Afghanistan and the West that the country is being dragged into a worsening spiral of violence.

Rahimi said one attacker had tried to slip into the NDS building through a destroyed wall after the blast, but he was discovered and killed.

Security forces members keep watch at the site of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Security forces members keep watch at the site of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Fighting has raged around the symbolically important northern city of Kunduz in the week since the Taliban announced their annual spring offensive, although the capital has been relatively quiet since the April 12 announcement.

Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth-largest city, fell briefly to the Taliban last September in the biggest blow to Ghani’s government since NATO-led forces ended their combat operations at the end of 2014.

Gunfire rang out for more than 30 minutes after the blast, according to Reuters witnesses at the scene. Pictures showed windows blown out at the front of an office that houses a National Directorate of Security (NDS) unit

The Taliban said on their Pashto-language website that they had carried out the suicide bombing on “Department 10”, an NDS unit, which is responsible for protecting government ministers and VIPs.

They said a suicide car bomber blew up the main gate at the front of the office, allowing other fighters, including more suicide bombers, to enter the heavily guarded compound.

A separate statement by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said attackers were engaged in a gunbattle with Afghan security forces inside the building.

It was not immediately possible to verify the details of the Taliban’s claim with government officials. The Islamist group often exaggerates details of attacks against government and military targets.

The Taliban-led insurgency has gained strength since the withdrawal of most international combat troops, and the Taliban are stronger than at any point since they were driven from power by U.S.-backed forces in 2001.

Afghan security forces carry an injured security personnel after a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Afghan security forces carry an injured security personnel after a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

A thick plume of black smoke had been seen rising from the area near the sprawling U.S. embassy complex in the center of Kabul immediately after the blast.

Warning sirens blared out for some minutes from the embassy compound, which is also close to the headquarters of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.

The U.S. embassy and the NATO mission both said they were not affected by the blast.