, KABUL, Oct 8 – A huge suicide car bomb struck near the Indian embassy in Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 12 people and injuring 83 in the latest in a wave of deadly attacks on the Afghan capital, officials said.
Windows were blown from dozens of shops and survivors staggered around the bloodied streets in the heavily fortified central diplomatic area, after the fifth suicide strike in Kabul in two months.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the blast bore all the hallmarks of the Taliban, who are battling to topple the Western-backed government.
"As a result of a suicide car bomb attack today, 12 people were martyred and 83 were wounded. Most of the casualties are civilians," interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary told AFP.
In a statement, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the perpetrators "barbaric" and said: "This is a terrorist attack, and an obvious attack on defenceless Afghan civilians."
Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said in New Delhi that his country’s fortress-like embassy was "obviously" the intended target. Related article: India says embassy was target
Rao said no Indians were killed in the blast, but three members of the Indo-Ticapitalfmnewn Border Police force who were guarding the embassy had received shrapnel injuries.
A similar suicide attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008 killed 60 people and was blamed on Taliban militants linked to Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, sending tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad soaring.
That attack, which remains the deadliest in Kabul, led to stringent new security measures such as concrete blast barriers at the embassy. Rao said those had limited the impact of Thursday’s explosion.
The bomber detonated his explosives-laden car near the corner of the embassy compound on Interior Ministry Road at about 8:30 am (0400 GMT), sending plumes of smoke into the air in a blast that echoed throughout the capital.
An AFP reporter saw a massive crater in the middle of the road. The wreckage of a car appeared to have been blown 20 metres (yards) across the road, while the windows of up to 100 shops were blown out.
The road was littered with debris, burned out vehicles and body parts. Bloodied scraps of clothing, including the pale blue burqas still worn by many Afghan women, were scattered across the site.
Fire engines and ambulances raced to the area. A white armoured Toyota Land Cruiser with the pale blue UN insignia painted on the side lay damaged. Three civilian cars were also damaged.
It is the fifth blast to hit the capital since mid-August, just before presidential elections were held on August 20 amid a campaign of violence and intimidation by resurgent Taliban rebels.
On September 17, six Italian soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians were killed in a suicide attack on a military convoy on the road to Kabul’s airport, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.
It was one of the worst single attacks on the more than 100,000 NATO and US-led troops serving in Afghanistan, and prompted Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to say that Rome wanted to cut troop numbers in Afghanistan.
Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan are at record levels — more than 400 in 2009 — and the mounting number of Western fatalities has sent support for the war plummeting in Europe and the United States. Related article: US mulls troop boost
US President Barack Obama is weighing whether to grant an appeal for up to 40,000 more troops from the overall commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.
Foreign civilian and military installations in Kabul are increasingly being targeted by militants, with the capital home to significant numbers of Western officials, troops and aid workers.
On September 8, a suicide attack in Kabul killed three civilians outside the city’s military airport.
Two days before the August 20 elections, a NATO convoy was attacked with the deaths of nine civilians and one foreign soldier.
Three days earlier, on August 15, seven civilians were killed by a suicide bomber who detonated a truck outside the NATO headquarters in Kabul, the most secure area in the country.