Death toll rises to 90 in huge suicide bombing in Afghanistan

Death toll rises to 90 in huge suicide bombing in Afghanistan

A suicide attacker has targeted a highly secure diplomatic area of Kabul with a truck bomb, killing 90 people and wounding up to 400.

The bomber drove into the Afghan capital's diplomatic quarter during the morning rush hour, leaving behind a bloody scene of chaos and destruction in one of the worst attacks since the drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan in 2014.

Most of the casualties were civilians, including women and children, said Ismail Kawasi, spokesman for the public health ministry.

But the dead also included Afghan security guards at the facilities, including the US Embassy, while 11 American contractors were wounded - none with life-threatening injuries, a US State Department official said.

"I have been to many attacks, taken wounded people out of many blast sites, but I can say I have never seen such a horrible attack as I saw this morning," ambulance driver Alef Ahmadzai said. "Everywhere was on fire and so many people were in critical condition."

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, which came in the first week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Taliban flatly denied any involvement in an email to news outlets and condemned all attacks against civilians.

The explosives were hidden in a tanker truck used to clean out septic systems, said Najib Danish, deputy spokesman for the interior minister. The number of dead and wounded was provided by the Afghan government's media centre, citing a statement from the Afghan Ulema Council, the country's top religious body that includes Muslim clerics, scholars and men of authority in religion and law.

The blast formed a crater about five metres deep near Zanbaq Square in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, where foreign embassies are protected by a battery of their own security personnel as well as Afghan police and National Security Forces. The nearby German Embassy was heavily damaged.

Also in the area is Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry, the Presidential Palace and its intelligence and security headquarters, guarded by soldiers trained by the US and its coalition partners.

"The terrorists, even in the holy month of Ramadan, the month of goodness, blessing and prayer, are not stopping the killing of our innocent people," said President Ashraf Ghani.

Afghanistan's war, the longest ever involving US troops, has shown no sign of letting up, and the introduction into the battle of an Islamic State affiliate has made the country only more volatile.

Although they are small in number, militants from IS in Khorasan - an ancient name for parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia - have taken credit for several brazen assaults on the capital.

Death toll rises to 90 in huge suicide bombing in Afghanistan

"Let's be clear: This is an intelligence failure, as has been the case with so many other attacks in Kabul and beyond. There was a clear failure to anticipate a major security threat in a highly secured area," said Michael Kugelman of the US-based Wilson Centre.

"The fact that these intelligence failures keep happening suggest that something isn't working at the top, and major and urgent changes are needed in security policy," he said.

The stricken neighbourhood was considered Kabul's safest, with the embassies protected by dozens of 10-foot-high blast walls and government offices guarded by security forces. More than 50 cars were either destroyed or damaged.

"I've never seen such a powerful explosion in my life," said Mohammad Haroon, who owns a nearby sporting goods store. All the windows in his shop and others around him were shattered, he added.

Besides the German Embassy, damage was reported at the embassies of China, Turkey, France, India and Japan, according to officials from those countries. Other nearby embassies include those of the US, Britain, Pakistan and Iran, as well as the Nato mission.

Nine Afghan guards at the US Embassy were killed and 11 American contractors were wounded, with one Afghan guard missing, according to a US State Department official None of the wounded Americans appeared to have life-threatening injuries, the official said.

Death toll rises to 90 in huge suicide bombing in Afghanistan

The BBC said one of its drivers was killed and four of its journalists were wounded. Afghanistan's private Tolo Television also reported an employee killed.

Germany said an Afghan security guard outside its embassy was among the dead. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that along with an Afghan guard who was killed, a German diplomat was slightly wounded and an Afghan employee had severe injuries.

Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attack, saying that "terrorism has no borders".

It "targets all of us - whether in Manchester or Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, St Petersburg or today in Kabul," she said in the southern German city of Nuremberg.

"Today we're united in shock and sadness across all borders," she added. She vowed: "We will lead the fight against terrorism, and we will win it."

AP

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