An explosives-packed ambulance blew up in a crowded area of Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 95 people and wounding 158 others, officials said. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, the second by the group within a week.
The explosion triggered chaotic scenes as terrified survivors fled the area scattered with body parts and blood. Hospitals were overwhelmed by the large number of wounded.
The assault comes as both the insurgents and the Islamic State have escalated attacks on the Afghan capital.
An AFP reporter saw “lots of dead and wounded” civilians in the Jamuriate hospital, just metres away from the blast site, where medical staff struggled to treat the severely injured men, women and children lying on the floor.
Health ministry spokesman Waheed Majroh said the toll “now stands at 95 dead, 158 wounded.”
The blast occurred in an area where several high-profile organisations, including the European Union, have offices. Members of the EU delegation in Kabul were in their “safe room” and there were no casualties, an official told AFP.
The suicide bomber passed through at least one checkpoint in the ambulance, saying he was taking a patient to Jamuriate hospital, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP. “At the second checkpoint he was recognised and blew his explosive-laden car,” Nasrat Rahimi said.
Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry has said most of the 95 people killed in an ambulance blast on Friday in a busy area of Kabul are civilians.
“The majority of the dead in the attack are civilians, but of course we have military casualties as well,” Interior Ministry spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi told a news conference here. He said four suspects had been arrested and were being questioned, but he didn’t elaborate.
He added that the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network was responsible for the attack.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the bombing, which sent thick, black smoke into the sky from the site near the government’s former Interior Ministry building.
Twenty minutes before the blast, an AFP reporter saw police checking ambulances several hundred metres from the scene of the explosion, as the drivers and patients stood on the street. Ambulances are rarely checked in the city.
The attack comes exactly a week after Taliban insurgents stormed Kabul’s landmark Intercontinental hotel, killing at least 25 people, the majority foreigners.
Photos shared on social media purportedly of the blast — the deadliest in Kabul since a truck bomb ripped through the city’s diplomatic quarter on May 31, killing 150 people and wounding hundreds — showed a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky.
Near the blast site civilians walked through debris-covered streets carrying wounded on their backs as others loaded several bodies at a time into ambulances and private cars to take them to medical facilities around the city.
A man told that he was passing the area when the explosion happened. “I heard a big bang and I fainted,” he said.
The attack was condemned by the presidential palace as a “crime against humanity”.
There was international outcry too, with NATO, the U.S. embassy in Kabul and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson among those expressing horror at the latest attack.
A security alert issued on Saturday morning had warned that the Islamic State group was planning “to conduct aggressive attacks” on supermarkets, shops and hotels frequented by foreigners.