A suicide bomber using an ambulance has killed 95 people and wounded at least 158 more in the Afghan capital Kabul. The attack has been claimed by the Taliban and occurred near foreign embassies and government buildings, a week after a deadly assault on the Intercontinental Hotel. 'The suicide bomber used an ambulance to pass through the checkpoint,' said interior ministry deputy spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.
'He passed through the first checkpoint saying he was taking a patient to Jamuriate hospital and at the second checkpoint he was recognised and blew his explosive-laden car. The blast tore through a crowded street in a busy part of the city at lunchtime on what is a working day in Afghanistan, leaving torn bodies strewn on the street nearby amid rubble and debris.
The force of the blast shook windows of buildings more than a mile away and shattered windows within hundreds of yards of the site. People helped walking-wounded away as ambulances with sirens wailing inched their way through the traffic-clogged streets of the city centre. A man told local media he was passing the area when the explosion happened.
'I heard a big bang and I fainted,' he said, outside the Emergency hospital. 'There were dozens of people who were killed and wounded. There were pools of blood.'
The explosion happened in a busy part of the city where the High Peace Council, which is charged with negotiating with the Taliban, has offices. 'It targeted our checkpoint. It was really huge - all our windows are broken,' said Hassina Safi, a member of High Peace Council.
'So far we don't have any reports if any of our members are wounded or killed.' The Swedish and Dutch embassies as well as the European Union representation and an Indian consular office are also nearby. 'It is a massacre,' said Dejan Panic coordinator in Afghanistan for the Italian aid group Emergency, which runs a nearby trauma hospital.
The group said more than 50 wounded had been brought in to that hospital alone. Mirwais Yasini, a member of parliament who was nearby when the explosion occurred, said the ambulance approached the checkpoint, close to an office of the High Peace Council and a number of foreign embassies, and blew up. Kabul police headquarters is also in the vicinity of the blast.
Yasini said a number of people were lying on the ground. A loud explosion rattled windows and photos posted online purportedly of the blast showed a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky. 'I can confirm an explosion happened near the old interior ministry building in Kabul,' interior ministry deputy spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told AFP.
The explosion comes exactly a week after Taliban militants stormed the luxury hotel killing at least 22 people, the majority foreigners. The latest attack will add pressure on President Ashraf Ghani and his U.S. allies, who have expressed growing confidence that a new more aggressive military strategy has succeeded in driving Taliban insurgents back from major provincial centres.
The United States has stepped up its assistance to Afghan security forces and increased its air strikes against the Taliban and other militant groups, aiming to break a stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table. However, the Taliban have dismissed suggestions that they have been weakened by the new strategy and the latest attacks have demonstrated that their capacity to mount deadly, high- profile attacks remains undiminished.