80 killed, 350 injured in massive blast in Kabul diplomatic quarter

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At least 80 people were killed and over 350 wounded Wednesday when a massive truck bomb ripped through Kabul’s diplomatic quarter, shattering the morning rush hour and bringing carnage to the streets of the Afghan capital.

Bodies littered the scene and a towering plume of smoke rose from the area, which houses foreign embassies, after the blast blew out the windows in several missions and residences hundreds of metres away.

Witnesses described dozens of cars choking the roads as wounded survivors and panicked schoolgirls sought safety, with men and women struggling to get through security checkpoints to search for loved ones.

It was not immediately clear what the target was. But the attack underscores spiralling insecurity in Afghanistan, where a military beset by soaring casualties and desertions is struggling to beat back the insurgents. Over a third of the country is outside government control.

More than an hour after the explosion, ambulances were still taking the wounded to the hospital as firefighters struggled to control blazes in several buildings.

Police and health officials confirmed to agencies that at least 80 people were killed and more than 300 wounded in the attack.

Authorities warned the toll could yet rise. “They are still bringing bodies and wounded people to hospitals,” senior health ministry spokesman Ismael Kawoosi told agencies.

The interior ministry was calling on Kabul residents to donate blood, saying hospitals were in “dire need”.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, told Middle East-based media that the group was not involved in the attack.

Militant group Islamic State (IS) has also claimed responsibility for several recent bombings in the Afghan capital, including a powerful blast targeting an armoured NATO convoy that killed at least eight people and wounded 28 on May 3.

Najib Danish, an interior ministry spokesman, said initial findings showed it had been a truck bomb.

PAKISTANI DIPLOMATS, STAFF INJURED IN ATTACK

Pakistan’s Foreign Office condemned the attack and according to a press statement, officials from the country’s embassy had been injured.

Some Pakistani diplomats and staff sustained minor injuries in the attack and their residences were also damaged, according to the press release of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Pakistan being a victim of terrorism understands the pain and agony that such incidents inflict upon the people and society. The people and government of Pakistan extend their heartfelt sympathies and deepest condolences to the government and the people of Afghanistan and the bereaved families,” the statement said.

“While reiterating condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, we pray for early recovery of the injured. We firmly stand with our Afghan brothers in this hour of grief and anguish,” it added.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also condemned the terror attack and expressed solidarity with the Afghan government and people.

In a statement, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa strongly condemned the incident and expressed grief over the loss of precious lives and damage to various embassies’ infrastructure, including Pakistan’s. “We stand with [our] Afghan brothers and its security forces in [the] fight against terrorism and militancy,” he stated further.

INDIAN, JAPANESE, FRENCH EMBASSIES DAMAGED

Manpreet Vohra, India’s envoy to Afghanistan, told an Indian TV channel the bomb went off around 100 metres from India’s embassy, one of several in the area.

“We are all safe, all our staff, all our personnel are safe. However, the blast was very large and nearby buildings, including our own building, have considerable damage in terms of broken glass and shattered windows and blown doors, etc.,” he said.

“By God’s grace, Indian Embassy staff are safe in the massive #Kabul blast,” India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “We strongly condemn the terrorist blast in Kabul. Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured.”

The explosion also shattered windows at the Japanese Embassy. “Two Japanese embassy staffers were mildly injured, suffering cuts,” a foreign ministry official in Tokyo told agencies.

France also reported damage to its own embassy and the German one.

The French embassy in Kabul was damaged in Wednesday’s car bomb attack in the Afghanistan capital, said French minister Marielle de Sarnez, who added there were no signs at this stage of any French victims. “There has been some material damage in the French embassy, as well as in the Germany embassy,” de Sarnez, who is France’s European affairs minister, told a European radio programme on Wednesday.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, said that an Afghan security guard was killed and several employees of the German embassy wounded in the blast.

A driver associated with the BBC was among those killed and four other journalists were wounded in the blast, the news organisation said in a statement.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has warned of “another tough year” for both foreign troops and local forces in Afghanistan.

Afghan troops are backed by US and NATO forces, and the Pentagon has reportedly asked the White House to send thousands of more troops to the country to break the deadlock in the fight against the Taliban.

US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 today, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies. They mainly serve in an advisory capacity—a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago.

The blast was the latest in a long line of attacks in Kabul. The province surrounding the capital had the highest number of casualties in the first three months of 2017 due to multiple attacks in the city, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.