An attacker driving an ambulance packed with explosives detonated them Saturday in the Afghan capital of Kabul, leaving 95 people dead and 158 others injured, Afghan officials said.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mojahid claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes a week after militants stormed a Kabul hotel.
The blast occurred around 12:45 p.m. local time after the vehicle passed through a security checkpoint, Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told CNN.
Police identified the attacker at a second checkpoint, Rahimi said, but couldn’t stop him before he detonated the explosives in a central area near the old Ministry of the Interior building, a large hospital and diplomatic buildings.
The injured have been taken to hospitals across the Afghan capital, said spokesman Wahid Majrooh of the Ministry of Public Health, who confirmed the casualties. He said the toll was likely to rise.
The attack, in the heart of what’s meant to be the securest part of the city, is likely to fuel doubts over the Afghan authorities’ ability to keep people safe.
‘Insane, inhuman, heinous’
Afghanistan’s Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah, condemned the attack, describing it as “insane, inhuman, heinous and a warcrime,” via his official Twitter account.
He also called on the international community to “take further action” against “state-sponsored terrorism.”
“Our priority and focus right now is to help those in need and provide the best treatment for those wounded,” he wrote. “This is the moment when we all need to stand together and punch our enemy hard. This is enough!”
The head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan called the attack “nothing short of an atrocity” that targeted a civilian area of the city.
“While the Taliban claim suggested the purpose of the attack was to target police, a massive vehicle bomb in a densely populated area could not reasonably be expected to leave civilians unharmed,” Tadamichi Yamamoto said in a statement.
“I am particularly disturbed by credible reports that the attackers used a vehicle painted to look like an ambulance, including bearing the distinctive medical emblem, in clear violation of international humanitarian law,” he said.
US Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass condemned what he called a “senseless and cowardly bombing” and those who perpetrated it.
“My government and I stand with the brave people of Afghanistan. Their work to create a peaceful, prosperous future for all the citizens of this country is the best response to terrorists and others who know only violence,” Bass said in a statement.
Of those killed, 14 were foreign nationals — including four Americans — and eight were Afghans, according to the Ministry of Interior. Six gunmen were killed by Afghan security forces. The Taliban also claimed responsibility for that assault.
ISIS militants on Wednesday attacked the offices of British aid agency Save the Children in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, killing at least four people and injuring dozens.
Analysis: Attack shows strongholds are vulnerable
Saturday’s bombing was not just another attack in the Afghan capital, CNN Senior International Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh said.
Every time the so-called ring of steel in the capital is penetrated, especially to such devastating effect, it undermines the government’s ability to appear in control of even its most important sanctuaries, he said.
At a time when President Ashraf Ghani faces many internal enemies and is far from secure, the perception that even his inner enclaves are vulnerable is very damaging.
Secondly, the Taliban on Saturday swiftly claimed responsibility. That was a marked contrast to another attack last March on a key military hospital in Kabul, which killed at least 30 people, many of them doctors and injured soldiers, Paton Walsh said.
The Taliban back then denied it was behind the hospital attack, suggesting such targets were beyond the pale. ISIS eventually made a reasonably credible claim to that attack.
This time, the Taliban had no such qualms, Paton Walsh said. This could be interpreted as a sign the Taliban doesn’t want to lose out to its younger, nastier competitor insurgency in the extremism stakes. A year ago, medical facilities were off-limits; now, an ambulance can be used as a bomb.
Thirdly, this is a seminal moment in the 16-year Afghanistan war. Last year, US and Afghan officials accepted that things had not gone well — that territory was lost — but noted the Taliban had lost people, too. This year, they insist, is the year the Taliban will begin to lose territory again. Attacks like this not only diminish morale but show strongholds as vulnerable, Paton Walsh said.
This year, too, hundreds more US troops are en route to the country to begin a much riskier mission: training Afghan troops outside the wire. There will be Americans on the front line who know that combat may be part of their mission and who may die in that effort, Paton Walsh said.
This is the one key foreign policy issue upon which US President Donald Trump has made a very specific policy pledge: to win.
At the same time, key indicators about how well the US and Afghan forces are doing — such as how many Afghan soldiers or police are killed or injured — are being classified, depriving the American public of simple ways of assessing their President’s success, Paton Walsh said, noting that neither the Pentagon or this White House typically hide it when they are winning.