Explosion near German embassy leaves more than 460 injured
A massive blast near the German embassy tore through the diplomatic quarter of the Afghan capital Wednesday, killing at least 90 people and wounding more than 460, officials said.
The devastation left Kabul in shock and underlined the country’s security struggles as it confronts a sustained wave of insurgent and terrorist attacks.
Interior Ministry officials said a huge quantity of explosives, hidden in a water tanker, detonated at 8:30 a.m. during rush hour on a busy boulevard in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, which houses embassies, banks, supermarkets and government ministries. An entire city block was ravaged, with office buildings left in rubble and charred vehicles strewn across the road in one of the deadliest single attacks in Kabul.
No group has so far claimed the powerful blast, which officials said was caused by 1,500 kilogrammes (1.6 US tonnes) of explosives hidden inside a sewage tanker, in what appeared to be a major intelligence failure.
At Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital, a steady stream of ambulances and police trucks delivered burned and mangled bodies, many streaming blood. Medical aides struggled to zip them quickly into body bags as distraught people crowded around, looking for missing relatives, reports Washington Post.
“I felt like it was an earthquake, and after that I do not know what happened,” said Mohammed Hassan, 21, who was attending a training programme at the Azizi Bank, half a block from the blast, and suffered cuts on his head and arms. “All the staff around me, everyone, was injured.” He said he was brought to the hospital by an Afghan army ranger truck.
The dead and wounded were almost all Afghan civilians and security forces: policemen, bank clerks, cart pullers, telephone company workers. The dead included at least five women and an Afghan driver for the BBC.
Although many foreign offices are located nearby — many surrounded by high blast walls — there were no reports of foreigners among the casualties. But some workers in diplomatic compounds, including those of Japan and Germany, were among the injured.
The Afghan Taliban denied any role in the bombing, which was followed by a second smaller blast in another part of the city. The Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, did not speculate on which group could have carried out the attack but said it should “become clear at a later stage.”
Security agencies had warned that both Taliban insurgents and regional affiliates of the Islamic State were planning to attack high-profile targets in the city in the early part of Ramadan.
Many injured survivors were cut by shards of glass from storefronts, offices and foreign compounds — as far away as several miles from the blast site. By midmorning, many were limping or being wheeled out of local hospitals, with their clothes covered in blood and their heads, arms or feet wrapped in bandages.
Nearby, distraught families squatted around bloody body bags, guarding them in patches of shade. There were muffled, choking sounds of men weeping. Most of the dead had been seared by the blast; some were wrapped in cloth but others were half-naked and dripping blood. The Afghan ministry of Public Health placed the death toll at 80 and the injury count at 463.
The government of President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning the twin blasts as “heinous acts that go against the values of humanity as well values of peaceful Afghans.” It also said the attacks “demonstrate the extreme level of atrocity by terrorists against innocent civilians.”
Public anger at the Afghan government built in the traumatic hours after the blast. People with grim, dazed faces strode along the sidewalks, avoiding piles of glass, or sat glumly in modern offices with all their windows gone, watching the news on TV.
“This is an inept government that cannot protect the people and must be dissolved. It is time for an interim government to be formed,” said Mirwais Yasini, a member of parliament.
The Ghani government, weakened by internal tensions, has faced an uphill battle to fend off an aggressive push by Taliban insurgents in recent months, as well as a number of assaults claimed by the Islamic State.
The diplomatic zone in Kabul is among the city’s most highly protected. Yet attackers have managed to breach its security in the past.
Witnesses described dozens of cars choking the roads as wounded survivors and panicked schoolchildren sought safety, with people struggling to get through security checkpoints to search for loved ones.
The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, condemned the attack. “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,” he said in a statement.
The German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, an Afghan security guard was killed in the blast and embassy employees wounded. He said all embassy workers were now safe and offered his condolences to the family of the slain guard. A French minister, Marielle de Sarnez, said its embassy had been damaged but it was not known if there were any French victims.
Houses hundreds of metres away from the explosion were damaged, with windows and doors blown off their hinges. The blast was loud enough to wake some residents. Reports from journalists inside Kabul said the explosion shook their houses and shattered windows.