Taliban kill 95 in with ambulance bomb

Kabul: An explosives-packed ambulance blew up in a crowded area of Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 95 people and wounding 158 others, officials said, in one of the biggest blasts to rock the war-torn city in recent years. The Taliban-claimed assault — the second carried out by the militant group in the Afghan capital in a week — triggered chaotic scenes as terrified survivors fled the area scattered with body parts and hospitals were overwhelmed by the large number of wounded.
It came as both the insurgents and the IS group have escalated their attacks on Kabul, one of the deadliest places in Afghanistan for civilians.
An AFP reporter saw “lots of dead and wounded” civilians in the Jamhuriat Hospital, which is metres away from the blast and where medical staff struggled to treat the bloodied men, women and children lying on the floor in corridors.
Baryalai Hilali, the director of the government media centre, warned the death toll might rise as some of the wounded brought to hospitals were in a “critical condition”.
The blast happened in an area where several high-profile organisations, including the European Union, have offices. Members of the EU delegation in Kabul were in their “safe room” and there were no casualties, an official said.
The force of the explosion shook windows of buildings at least two kilometres (more than a mile) away and caused some low-rise structures in the immediate vicinity to collapse.
The suicide bomber passed through at least one checkpoint in the ambulance, saying he was taking a patient to Jamhuriat Hospital, an interior ministry spokesman said.
“At the second checkpoint he was recognised and blew his explosive-laden car,” Nasrat Rahimi said.
Twenty minutes before the blast, an AFP reporter saw police checking ambulances several hundred metres from the scene of the explosion, as the drivers and patients stood on the street. Ambulances are rarely checked in the city.
The Taliban used social media to claim responsibility for the attack, which comes exactly a week after its insurgents stormed Kabul’s landmark Intercontinental hotel, killing at least 25 people, the majority foreigners.
Photos shared on social media purportedly of the blast, which the presidential palace quickly condemned as a “crime against humanity”, showed a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky. Near the blast site civilians walked through debris-covered streets carrying wounded on their backs as others loaded several bodies at a time into ambulances and private cars to take them to medical facilities around the city. A man told Ariana TV he had taken his wounded brother to Jamhuriat and Emergency hospitals but had been turned away.
“They are asking people with non-life threatening wounds to go to other hospitals,” he said.
Aminullah, whose stationery shop is just metres from where the explosion happened, said the force of the explosion shook the foundations of his building.
“The building shook. All our windows broke. The people are in shock in our market,” he said.
A man told Tolo News he was passing the area when the explosion happened.
“I heard a big bang and I fainted,” he said, outside the Emergency Hospital.
“There were dozens of people who were killed and wounded. There were pools of blood.”
The offices of the High Peace Council, charged with negotiating with the Taliban, are also near the blast site.
“It targeted our checkpoint. It was really huge — all our windows are broken,” Hassina Safi, a member of High Peace Council, said.
“So far we don’t have any reports if any of our members are wounded or killed.”
A security alert issued on Saturday morning had warned that the IS group was planning “to conduct aggressive attacks” on supermarkets, shops and hotels frequented by foreigners.
— Agencies