A massive explosion near the Afghan presidential palace yesterday killed at least 90 people, wounded hundreds and damaged embassy buildings, said officials, in an attack that appeared to be one of the bloodiest of the long Afghan war.
The huge blast during the morning rush hour caused panic in much of central Kabul, shattering windows as far as 1.6km away. Nearly two hours after the explosion near Zanbaq Square, a crowded area in the capital that leads to the presidential palace as well as major foreign embassies, plumes of smoke were still rising from the scene.
The devastating scope of the attack in one of the mostly heavily guarded areas of Kabul highlighted the reach of the militants, and it came as the Taliban has been gaining territory in the countryside, raising new questions about the government’s ability to restore order to a war-torn nation.
Kabul’s police chief, General Hassan Shah Frogh, said the explosives used in the blast had been in a tanker truck used to empty septic wells. The bomb was detonated near the square just as the street turns towards the German Embassy, he said.
“The blast was so huge that it dug a big crater, as deep as four metres,” he added.
Mr Wahidullah Majrooh, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, said that 90 bodies and 350 wounded people had been brought to hospitals.
The German Embassy was extensively damaged, with dozens of windows blown in, reported public broadcaster ARD. It aired images showing stunned civilians pressing makeshift bandages to bloody limbs, and stumbling through a smoke-filled street as ambulances rushed to the scene.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that an Afghan security guard employed by the embassy had been killed. He also said that several Germans had been wounded. He condemned what he called an attack on “those who are in Afghanistan, working with the people there for a better future”.
The French, Turkish, Indian, Japanese and Chinese embassies were also among those damaged, said the five countries, adding there were no immediate signs of injuries among their diplomats. The BBC said one of its drivers, an Afghan, was killed driving journalists to work. Four journalists were wounded and treated in hospital.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, and it was unclear whether the embassy had been specifically targeted. A spokesman for the Taliban, whose forces are responsible for most of the intensifying violence across Afghanistan, said it was not behind the attack.
President Ashraf Ghani called the attack “a crime against humanity”. A statement by General John Nicholson Jr, the commander of American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan, applauded the Afghan security forces for preventing the truck full of explosives from entering the Green Zone, a reference to the heavily guarded area that houses the headquarters of the coalition forces as well as several foreign embassies.
“The attack demonstrates a complete disregard for civilians and reveals the barbaric nature of the enemy faced by the Afghan people,” said the statement.