A powerful bomb exploded at rush hour this morning in the centre of Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, killing or wounding hundreds of people and sending clouds of black smoke into the sky above the presidential palace and foreign embassies.
The explosion, one of the deadliest in Kabul and at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, occurred close to the entrance to the German embassy on a road usually choked with traffic at that time of day, said Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for Kabul police in a statement to Reuters.
Mujahid said that although the bomb exploded from a car near the Germany embassy, there are several other important compounds and offices in the vicinity, so ‘it is hard to say what the exact target is’.
The blast – which shattered windows and blew doors off their hinges in houses hundreds of metres away – was unusually powerful, with some reports saying it was caused by explosives concealed in a water tanker.
A public health official told Reuters at least 80 people had been killed and more than 350 wounded. The victims appear mainly to have been Afghanistan civilians and there were no immediate reports of casualties among foreign embassy staff.
The French and Chinese embassies were among those damaged.
Videos shot at the scene showed burning debris, crumbled walls and buildings and destroyed cars, many with dead or injured people inside.
At the Wazir Akhbar Khan hospital a few blocks away, there were scenes of chaos as ambulances brought in wounded and frantic relatives scanned casualty lists and questioned hospital staff for news.
Later, another frenzy broke out outside the hospital as ambulances and police trucks began bringing in the bodies of those killed. Some bodies were burned or destroyed beyond recognition.
Both the Taliban and Islamic State have carried out high-profile attacks in Kabul in recent months but there was no immediate claim of responsibility. A spokesman for Taliban insurgents told Reuters he was gathering information.
However, the attack provided another clear demonstration that Ramadan, which began at the weekend, would provide little respite from the violence across Afghanistan.