Special to WorldTribune.com
KABUL — At least 80 people were killed and more than 350 were wounded in a huge truck-bomb blast in the center of Kabul on May 31, Afghanistan’s Health Ministry said.
The explosion ripped through the city at the peak of the morning rush hour early in the holy month of Ramadan, shattering windows far from the site and sending black smoke into the sky.
“Unfortunately, the toll has reached 80 martyred and over 300 wounded, including many women and children,” ministry spokesman Waheed Majroh said.
He said the the toll could rise after one of the deadliest bombings in the capital of a country torn by war for decades.
The Interior Ministry urged Kabul residents to donate blood.
The police said the explosives were hidden in a tanker truck that exploded near the German Embassy in an area close to other embassies and the presidential palace.
Many of the dead and wounded were civilians, and the blast prompted widespread condemnation of what world leaders and rights groups called a “despicable” and “barbaric” attack.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani strongly condemned the “cowardly 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,” a statement from Ghani’s office said.
The blast killed an Afghan security guard and wounded some embassy staff, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Twitter. “Such attacks do not change our resolve in continuing to support the Afghan government in the stabilization of the country,” he said.
However, Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for city police, said it was not clear that the German Embassy had been the target.
“There are several other important compounds and offices near there, too,” Mujahid said.
The NATO-led Resolute Support (RS) mission said Afghan security forces had blocked the truck before entering the heavily protected Green Zone where many foreign embassies, as well as its headquarters, are located, suggesting the explosion may not have reached its intended target.
The NATO statement praised “the courage of Afghan Security Forces, especially the police and first responders.”
“The attack demonstrates a complete disregard for civilians and reveals the barbaric nature of the enemy faced by the Afghan people,” the NATO statement said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the “horrific attack in Kabul” and offered his condolences in a post on Twitter.
America’s top diplomat in Kabul, Special Chargé d’Affaires Hugo Llorens said the “horrific and shameful attack demonstrates these terrorists’ complete disregard for human life and their nihilistic opposition to the dream of a peaceful future for Afghanistan.”
Llorens offered his “deepest condolences to the families of all those killed and hope for the speedy recovery of the injured.”
Amnesty International called the attack “a horrific act of violence and a heartbreaking reminder of the toll that Afghan civilians continue to pay in a conflict where armed groups deliberately target them and the government fails to protect them.”
News reports quoting unnamed German government sources said that Berlin authorities had canceled the planned deportation on May 31 of a group of Afghans who had unsuccessfully sought asylum.
“Germany will not carry out flights deporting rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan in the next few days,” a German official said, but stressed the underlying policy remained.
“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,” said the official.
The BBC said an Afghan driver was killed and four of its journalists were injured in the blast.
Iran’s official news agency IRNA said the Iranian Embassy sustained severe damage. The residence of the Iranian ambassador was heavily damaged and part of the diplomatic compound was destroyed. There were no immediate reports of casualties among Iranian Embassy personnel.
French government minister Marielle de Sarnez told Europe 1 radio that the French Embassy was damaged but that there were no signs “at this stage” of any French victims.
The Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Kazakh embassies reportedly sustained some damage, too, but no staff injuries were reported.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that his country strongly condemns the “terrorist blast” and conveyed condolences.
“India stands with Afghanistan in fighting all types of terrorism. Forces supporting terrorism need to be defeated,” Modi said.
Neighboring Pakistan has condemned the “terrorist attack” in a statement from the Foreign Ministry voicing solidarity with Afghanistan.
“Pakistan strongly condemns the terrorist attack in Kabul this morning that has caused the loss of precious human lives and injuries to many,” the statement said.
“We firmly stand with our Afghan brothers in this hour of grief and anguish,” it added.
The Wazir Akbar Khan district, where the attack occurred, is considered Kabul’s safest area, with foreign embassies protected by dozens of 3-meter-high blast walls and government offices guarded by police and national security forces.
Najib Danish, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told RFE/RL the blast was so large more than 50 vehicles were either destroyed or damaged. Several houses were also damaged, Danish said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which came amid the Taliban’s annual spring offensive.
However, a Taliban spokesman denied responsibility for the attack.
Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that Taliban fighters were not involved and that the group condemned any attacks that caused civilian casualties.
The Islamic State (IS) extremist group has claimed responsibility for several recent bombings in the Afghan capital, including a powerful blast targeting an armored NATO convoy that killed at least eight people and wounded 28 on May 3.
The blast was the latest in a series of attacks in the Afghan capital. Kabul Province had the highest number of casualties in the first three months of 2017 as a result of multiple attacks in the city, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.
Afghan security forces are battling a 16-year-long insurgency led by the Taliban, an extremist group that was driven from power after a U.S.-led invasion following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.
The United States is considering whether to send 3,000 to 5,000 more military advisers to help train and assist Afghan security forces.