Suicide bomb kills up to 20 in Kabul
Kabul – A suicide car bomb attack targeted Nato troops in the Afghan capital on Tuesday, killing up to 20 people near parliament in one of the deadliest strikes on Kabul in more than a year, officials said.
The Taliban, the militia leading a nearly nine-year insurgency against the Western-backed government and US-led military in Afghanistan, claimed responsibility for the attack.
The bomber reduced the busy rush hour to blood and chaos on a clogged street near parliament, a hospital run by foreigners, an army recruitment centre and the ministry of water and energy.
The American University of Afghanistan is just across the road and the Kabul museum about 100m away.
The Nato International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) confirmed one of its convoys had been hit and said a casualty assessment was underway.
"An Isaf convoy was hit. At the moment we're trying to confirm the number of Isaf casualties," spokesperson Lieutenant Commander Iain Baxter told AFP.
Asked if he could confirm any Isaf casualties, the spokesperson said: "We're still confirming how many Isaf casualties have been caused."
Interior ministry spokesperson Zemarai Bashary said at least 12 civilians were killed and 47 others wounded, most of whom had been travelling in a bus that passed when the suicide bomber blew up a car packed with explosives.
Children and women were among the dead and wounded, Bashary said.
Afghan army chief military doctor, General Ahmad Zia Yaftali said at least 20 people died.
At least 20
"We have five bodies brought to our hospital so far... the number of the dead is more than 20," Yaftali told AFP.
Ambulances were seen speeding off carrying the wounded through Kabul streets heavily clogged with traffic, an AFP reporter said.
Several SUV-style vehicles, of the type used by Western military troops and diplomats, were damaged at the bomb site, where Afghan and American security forces were investigating, an AFP photographer said.
Tuesday's bombing was the first major attack in Kabul since February 26 when Taliban suicide bombers targeted guesthouses, killing 16 people including Westerners and Indians in one the deadliest attacks on foreigners.
Yaftali's death toll of 20 would make it the deadliest attack in the capital since the Taliban launched suicide bomb and gun attacks on three Afghan government buildings on February 11 2009, killing at least 26 people.
Zabihullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesperson called AFP from an undisclosed location to claim responsibility.
"The attack, which was a suicide car bomb, was carried out by one of our mujahideen (holy warriors)," he said.
The Taliban had vowed to unleash a new nationwide campaign of attacks from May 10 that would target diplomats, members of the Afghan parliament and foreign contractors as well as foreign forces in Afghanistan.
The militia is waging an increasingly deadly insurgency and attacks have increased over the past 12 months in the heavily guarded capital.
Last month, Afghan authorities announced the arrest of nine would-be suicide bombers who were allegedly plotting attacks on "strategic targets" in Kabul.
The men, aged between 16 and 55, were arrested during a co-ordinated operation that included raids on at least one madrassa, or religious school, in the capital, a spokesperson for the country's spy agency said.
So far this year, at least 202 Nato soldiers have died according to an AFP tally, marking the deadliest January to mid-May period in the war, as the Taliban fight escalates and the West pours thousands more troops into battle.
From January to end-May 2009, 119 Nato soldiers died in Afghanistan. Overall, 520 Nato troops died in 2009, the deadliest year so far for US-led foreign troops since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban regime.
Since summer 2009, one or two Nato soldiers have died on average each day. The US and its Nato allies are increasing to 150 000 their military deployment in Afghanistan. About two-thirds of the troops are American.
The US believes the troop "surge" can wrest the initiative from the Taliban in key population centres and allow American forces to start withdrawing from the unpopular and costly conflict next year.