A powerful bomb blast has ripped through a diplomatic district in central Kabul killing at least ninety people and wounding more than 400 others.
The Afghan Interior Ministry previously said that 64 people had been killed, according to AFP.
The blast is believed to have come from a car bomb. Reuters reported that the powerful bomb was hidden inside a sewage tank on a truck. The precise target was not immediately clear, but many embassies and government buildings are located in the area.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani condemned the devastating attack, which happened just days into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In a statement quoted by Reuters, Ghani said “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.”
The blast struck at around 8:30am local time Wednesday.
Several hours after the attack, AFP reported that ambulances were still taking the wounded to hospital and rescuers were retrieving bodies from the rubble while firefighters struggle to extinguish flames in adjacent buildings.
— Pajhwok Afghan News (@pajhwok) May 31, 2017
The powerful blast destroyed more than 50 vehicles in the area, Pajhwok News reports.
Photos posted on Twitter showed a thick pillar of smoke rising from the site of the explosion.
— Pajhwok Afghan News (@pajhwok) May 31, 2017
Most victims are thought to be civilians, including employees of a local mobile phone company, Roshan, according to TOLO News.
Eyewitnesses on social media said the blast was so strong it shattered all windows in nearby buildings.
“At around 8.30am the room was shaken and then we heard a very huge explosion. It was scary, for a moment I thought we were attacked and the explosion was in our office,” Ramzir Bakhtiar, a Kabul resident, told RT. He said the diplomatic quarter where the blast actually took place is situated around 500 meters (1,600ft) away from his office, but the shockwave was so powerful that it still caused damage to the building.
The BBC has confirmed in a statement that Mohammed Nazir, a driver who worked at the corporation’s Afghan office for four years, died in the explosion. Four BBC journalists were injured and taken to hospital.
BBC statement: pic.twitter.com/FBl4IRi16E
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) May 31, 2017
Despite the high death toll among local residents, the foreign embassies have not reported any fatalities among their staff.
The US State Department said 11 American citizens employed as contractors in Kabul suffered non-life-threatening injuries in Wednesday’s attack.
The German Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that a local security officer guarding the embassy premises has been killed in the blast. Though several embassy workers were injured, all employees are now safe.
The car bomb went off in the close proximity to the diplomatic mission, the ministry said, adding that it targeted people who “worked for the better future of their country.”
— Auswärtiges Amt (@AuswaertigesAmt) May 31, 2017
German authorities said they would temporarily suspend deportations of failed Afghan asylum seekers or migrants following the blast in Kabul.
“The employees [at the embassy in Kabul] have more important things to do than to prepare the organizational measures needed. Therefore there will be no collective deportations to Afghanistan in the next few days,” a German government official told Reuters.
“But it is and remains the case that deportations must be carried out according to our laws. This principle applies to Afghanistan, especially for criminals, and we will continue to go down this path,” the official added.
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) May 31, 2017
The Indian embassy has said its staff is safe, though the building was damaged in the blast. Two employees of the Japanese embassy were mildly injured, suffering cuts, according to AFP.
In the meantime, France’s foreign minister, Marielle de Sarnez, said the French embassy in Kabul has been damaged, but there are “no signs” at this stage indicating that there were victims among the employees.
Hugo Llorens, charges d’affaires of the US embassy in Kabul, slammed the “horrific and shameful attack,” saying Washington is committed to helping the Afghan government defeat “small but despicable and barbaric cults” that undermine security in the country.
Statement by U.S. Embassy Kabul Special Chargé d’Affaires Ambassador Hugo Llorens on the Attack Near the German Embassy in Kabul. pic.twitter.com/pRvCiPWtFC
— U.S. Embassy Kabul (@USEmbassyKabul) May 31, 2017
Several journalists tweeted that their offices were damaged in the blast, including Jessica Donati, who writes for the Wall Street Journal, and the BBC’s Kabul bureau manager, Karim Haidari, who said the BBC staff were affected in the blast.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgent movement had no involvement in the attack, according to Reuters. Mujahid claimed that the Taliban condemns indiscriminate attacks that cause civilian casualties.
Last month, the Taliban announced the beginning of a “spring offensive,” promising to attack US-trained Afghan forces and foreign troops.
— AFPgraphics (@AFPgraphics) May 31, 2017
The other possible culprit, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), is yet to claim responsibility. In the past, the terrorist group launched several high-profile attacks targeting Afghan and foreign forces in various parts of the country.
The US has 8,000 troops in Afghanistan to train Afghan forces and render support during counter-insurgency operations.
It’s impossible to fully check every vehicle even in such highly-fortified areas as the “Green Zone,” Charles Shoebridge, a former UK counterterrorism intelligence officer, told RT, adding that the Kabul attack wasn’t only a breach of security, but also an “intelligence failure.”
“If the intelligence services are able to infiltrate these groups, they should be able to get some kind of advance notice of these kind of plots taking place. But again and again… that intelligence either isn’t arriving with the intelligence services of Afghanistan, or isn’t being acted upon,” he said.
“Until this situation is resolved – and there’s no sign it will be – these kinds of attacks will continue,” Shoebridge warned.