This post features updates incorporated into the post during the day as news develops
Only yesterday I was writing in my blog of the horrors being inflicted on many countries in the Middle East by suicide and car bombs on an almost daily basis, referring to two car bombs in Baghdad in Iraq yesterday morning. Today it seems was Afghanistan’s turn with a massive bomb hidden in a sewage truck exploding in the diplomatic area of the country’s capital, Kabul. At least 90 people have died and more than 460 wounded in the blast. At least 11 members of the Afghan national police and eight Afghan soldiers were among the fatalities. No-one has claimed responsibility for the explosion yet but is almost certainly either Islamic Sate or the Taliban, though later in the day the Taliban denied responsibility, with their spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid saying that the explosion had “nothing to do with the Mujahedeen of Islamic Emirate.” This would then suggest that the Islamic State is responsible. It is not unusual for IS to wait a few days before claiming responsibility for an attack.
The explosion happened at 08:25 local time (03:55 GMT), during the rush hour, near the German embassy in Zanbaq Square in the Wazir Akbar Khan are of the city. The bomb was said by a diplomatic source to contain some 3,300lb (1,500kg) explosives. It left a crater 16ft (5m) deep (above) and buildings, including several embassies, were damaged with windows of houses being shattered hundreds of metres away in the shock wave that followed the blast. Dozens of cars in the area were also destroyed by the blast, with images of burnt-out vehicles scattered around the area.
Makeshift ambulances began taking the injured to hospitals as the area was cordoned off and desperate locals gathered hoping their loved ones were not among the dead and injured. There are many key buildings in the area including many foreign embassies and the presidential palace and Reuters are reporting that Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for the Kabul police, said that it is not known what the specific target of the bomb was – if there was one at all. The road on which it exploded leads to the US embassy as well as the US and Nato military headquarters. They may have been the intended target and the bomb was detonated prematurely for some reason, but we cannot be sure. Mr Mujahid said: “It was a car bomb near the German embassy, but there are several other important compounds and offices near there too. It is hard to say what the exact target is.” Questions are being raised as to how the vehicle penetrated what is a heavily fortified area, with defences that include 10ft high blast walls. The blast is the deadliest in years in Kabul.
A spokesman for the health ministry, Ismael Kawoosi, said that: “They are still bringing bodies and wounded people to hospitals.” The health ministry also says that the death toll is likely to rise, and called on local residents to donate blood as there was a “dire need” for more. Eyewitnesses were speaking of the explosion. Local shop owner Sayed Rhaman told Reuters that his store was damaged and said: “I have never seen such a terrible explosion in my life.” A local resident, Abdul Wahid, told the BBC that the blast “was like a heavy earthquake” Elias Nasar, a local bank clerk, said: “First, it felt like an earthquake, then everything came down, windows, the ceiling. The electricity cut out.”
Some of the foreign embassies, and some foreign organisations, have sustained damage and casualties:
- The German foreign minister said that Sigmar Gabriel, an Afghan security guard was killed in the blast and embassy employees wounded. He said all embassy workers were now safe and offered his condolences to the family of the slain guard. He later added: “The attack took place very close to the German embassy. It hit civilians and those who are in Afghanistan to work for a better future for the country with the people there. It’s especially contemptible that these people were the target.”
- French officials said the country’s embassy had been damaged, along with the German embassy, but there were no signs at this stage of any French casualties
- The British embassy said all its staff were accounted for, while Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said the staff of its embassy were also safe. The British embassy also suffered heavy damage.
- Two Japanese embassy said two staff members were slightly wounded, as well as a Pakistani man working at their embassy.
- The US Department of State has said 11 American contractors working for the US embassy were injured.
- Heavy damage was caused to the Turkish and Chinese embassies. Turkey is thought to be planning to evacuate some of its staff from the city as a result of the attack.
- The BBC said that one of its Afghan drivers, Mohammed Nazir (below), was killed in the blast. He was in his late 30s with a young family. Four BBC journalists were also injured and are in hospital. Their injuries are not thought to be life threatening.
Here are some tributes to Mr Nazir. You can read further tributes to him here:
- Francesca Unsworth, BBC World Service director: “it’s with great sadness that the BBC can confirm the death of BBC Afghan driver Mohammed Nazir following the vehicle bomb in Kabul earlier today, as he was driving journalist colleagues to the office. Mohammed Nazir worked as a driver for the BBC Afghan service for more than four years and was a popular colleague. He was in his late 30s and he leaves a young family. This is a devastating loss to the BBC and to Mohammed Nazir’s friends and family.”
- Tony Hall, BBC director-general: “Many of our staff face dangerous situations every day as they report from volatile areas around the world. It’s testament to their bravery that we are able to provide trusted, impartial coverage – but consequences like this are devastating for us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mohammed’s family and many friends at such a very sad time.”
- Waheed Massoud, BBC Afghan service: “Mohammed Nazir was young. He was the father of four children and the only breadwinner in his family. He had a gentle smile and a warm personality. I knew Nazir for years and I worked with him most days of the week. BBC journalists, support staff and visitors remember him as an honest and reliable person. Most colleagues deploying from Kabul to dangerous provinces would prefer to go with Nazir.”
Aziz Navin, who works for the Afghan Tolo news agency is thought to be among the fatalities and Tolo are reporting that some of the victims worked for the Roshan mobile company. The overwhelming majority of the casualties will be cvilians. They won’t work for embassies, the police or the army. They will be regular Afghan people who were perhaps on their way to the jobs during the Kabul rush hour, as they would do every morning. As nearly always in bomb blasts in the Middle East it is the ordinary civilians who are killed and injured – and, indeed, are usually the indiscriminate targets of these senseless acts of terror and violence. The Afghan president Ashraf Ghani reflected this in his reaction to this morning’s blast, when he said he: “strongly condemned the cowardly attack in the holy month of Ramadan targeting innocent civilians in their daily life. […] The terrorists, even in the holy month of Ramadan, the month of goodness, blessing and prayer, are not stopping the killing of our innocent people,” The Indian PM Narendra Modi also tweeted his condemnation, saying: “Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured.”
The blast was almost certainly the act of either the Taliban or the Islamic State. About a third of Afghanistan is no longer controlled by the Afghan government with the Afghan army fighting the Taliban for control of large areas of the country. The Taliban last month killed 135 soldiers in an attack on a army training camp in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif. Meanwhile the Islamic State is active inside Afghanistan. It claimed responsibility for an attack on a Nato convoy passing the US embassy in Kabul earlier this month, killing at least eight civilians. Kabul, in particular seems to have been a large target in recent years. Today’s horrific bombing is just the latest in a string of attacks in the Afghan capital:
- 8 March 2017 – More than 30 people killed after attackers dressed as doctors stormed Sardar Daud Khan military hospital.
- 21 Nov 2016 – At least 27 dead in a suicide bomb attack on Baqir ul Olum mosque during a Shia ceremony.
- 23 July 2016 – At least 80 people killed in twin bomb blasts targeting a rally by the Shia Hazara minority in Deh Mazang square.
- 19 Apr 2016 – At least 28 dead in a huge explosion close to the Afghan defence ministry building.
- 1 Feb 2016 – 20 killed in a suicide bomb attack at police headquarters.
- 7 Aug 2015 – At least 35 people dead in separate bomb attacks across the capital.
People were trapped inside the cordon this morning after the blast, including the children in the Amani school who spent two hours inside the cordon before being able to get through the police barricades. The Guardian reported: “Some looked visibly shaken after being kept in the school for hours, while others held on to worried-looking parents who had come to fetch them.” Outside the Emergency Hospital, which is just outside the cordoned off area, staff were fending off relatives searching for injured loved ones. Crying women were banging on the doors to be let in.
A truly terrible attack, one of the worst in Afghanistan’s bloody history of terror attacks. My thoughts today are with those who have been injured and the families and friends of those who have been killed. Sadly there seems to be no likelihood that the terror being inflicted on the people of Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region will end any time soon. A very sad day.
Sources & Further Reading:
- 90 people were murdered by Islamist terrorists in Kabul this week. Where is the minute’s silence for them? – independent.co.uk – 1 June 2017 – by Thaslima Begum
- Kabul bomb: Diplomatic zone attack kills dozens – bbc.co.uk/news – 31 May 2017 | updated during day
- Kabul bomb: Afghan leader condemns ‘cowardly’ attack – bbc.co.uk/news – 31 May 2017
- Kabul bomb: The hell of losing loved ones in Afghanistan – bbc.co.uk/news – 31 May 2017 – by Waheed Massoud, Editor BBC Afghan, Kabul
- In pictures: Deadly Kabul blast – bbc.co.uk/news – 31 May 2017
- Kabul: more than 80 killed by massive car bomb in diplomatic quarter – theguardian.com – 31 May 2017 – by Sune Engel Rasmussen in Kabul | updated during day
- Deadly car bomb attack hits Kabul diplomatic quarter – video – theguardian.com – 31 May 2017
- Suicide bomb kills at least 80 and wounds more than 350 in Afghanistan – independent.co.uk – 31 May 2017 – by Beth McKernan | updated during day
- The Kabul Bombing: Wrenching Scenes of Carnage – nytimes.com – 31 May 2017
- Huge Bombing in Kabul Is One of Afghan War’s Worst – nytimes.com – 31 May 2017 – by Mujib Mashal and Fahim Abed
- Massive blast in the heart of Kabul’s diplomatic quarter kills at least 80 – washingtonpost.com – 31 May 2017 – by Sayed Salahuddin and Pamela Constable
- In Kabul, a massive bombing took its toll on me and a city I love – washingtonpost.com – 31 May 2017 – by Pamela Constable
- Kabul bloodbath: 80 killed, over 350 wounded in deadly bombing in capital – afghanistantimes.af – 31 May 2017
- A U.S. troop increase would aim to double the size of Afghanistan’s special operations unit – washingtonpost.com – 23 May 2017 – by Pamela Constable
- While the U.S. wasn’t looking, Russia and Iran began carving out a bigger role in Afghanistan – washingtonpost.com – 13 April 2017 – by Erin Cunningham