Dozens of people were wounded with fatalities feared as a powerful car bomb rocked Kabul early Monday and gunmen battled special forces in an area housing military and government buildings, Afghan officials said.
The rush-hour explosion on July 1 sent a plume of smoke into the air above the Pul-e Mahmood Khan neighborhood of the Afghan capital and shook buildings up to two km (1.2 miles) away, with an AFP reporter saying he could hear gunshots after the blast.
“At first, a car bomb took place and then several attackers took over a building. The area is cordoned off by the police special forces and [they] are bringing down the attackers,” interior ministry spokesperson Nasrat Rahimi said.
At least six people were killed, including one child and two special forces, Rahimi later said.
The health ministry put the wounded toll at 116 people. Among the injured were at least 50 school children, the education ministry said.
The area was quickly blocked off by Afghan forces and ambulances, while the nearby “Green Zone” diplomatic area was put on lockdown, with no one allowed in or out.
Rahimi said all five gunmen and the driver of the car had been killed, and a clearing operation was over.
Some social media images purportedly taken at a hospital showed wounded, stunned children in school uniforms, still clutching books as they arrived for treatment.
Five schools were damaged in the blast, the education ministry said.
The heavily-secured neighborhood in PD16 is home to some military and government buildings, including one shared by Afghanistan’s intelligence agency and defense ministry, as well as the Afghan Football Federation and the Afghan Cricket Board.
Shams Amini, a football federation spokesperson, told AFP that the blast occurred near the federation’s gates.
Footage shows plumes of smoke coming out of the Defense Ministry’s logistics center in #Kabul following a truck bomb explosion this morning. A township is located near the logistics center which according to reports has been damaged in the explosion. #Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/vuEVepgpXe
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) July 1, 2019
Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices but said it was not the target.
The Taliban said it was responsible for the attack, which it said targeted the defense ministry’s logistics center.
The explosion came two days after the Taliban and the U.S. began their seventh round of talks in the Qatari capital of Doha as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan’s September presidential election.
The negotiations have so far centered on four issues – counter-terrorism, the foreign troop presence, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.
A potential deal would see the U.S. agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among huge swathes of Afghans who fear the militants will return to some semblance of power.
In return the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremist groups, as happened with al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
U.S. officials have previously said they are hoping for a deal before the upcoming Afghan presidential elections, which have already been delayed twice and are now slated for September 28.
With reporting from AFP