Increase font size Decrease font size Reset font size

Ambulance bomb kills 95 in Kabul

KABUL: A bomb hidden in an ambulance killed at least 95 people and wounded about 158 in the Afghan capital on Saturday when it blew up at a police checkpoint in a busy part of the city that was crowded with pedestrians at the time of the attack.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide blast, a week af ter they claimed an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in which more than 20 people were killed.

An interior ministry spokesman blamed the Haqqani network, a militant group affiliated with the Taliban that Afghan and Western officials consider to be behind many of the biggest attacks on urban targets in Afghanistan.

As medical teams struggled to handle the casualties pouring in, some of the wounded were laid out in the open, with intravenous drips set up next to them in hospital gardens.

`It`s a massacre,` said Dejan Panic, coordinator inAfghanistan for the Italian aid group Emergency, which runs a nearby trauma hospital that treated dozens of wounded.

Hours after the blast, a health ministry spokesman said the casualty toll had risen to at least 95 killed and 158 wounded.

Condemnation Pakistan condemned the terrorist attack and expressed grief and sorrow over the loss of precious lives.

A statement issued by the Foreign Of fice in Islamabadsaid: `The government and people of Pakistan express solidarity with and support to the government and people of Afghanistan at this brutal terrorist attack.

The statement also stressed the need for cooperation between countries to effectively combat terrorism. `Pakistan reiterates its strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

`No cause or ends justify acts of terrorism against innocent people. We emphasise the need for concerted efforts and effective cooperation among the states to eradicate thescourge of terrorism.

The brutal attack will add pressure on President Ashraf Ghani and his US allies, who have expressed growing confidence that a new more aggressive military strategy has succeeded in driving Taliban militants back from major provincial centres.

`Today`s attack is nothing short of an atrocity, and those who have organised and enabled it must be brought to justice and held to account,` Tadamichi Yamamoto, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement.

The United States has stepped up its assistance to Afghan security forces and increased its air strikes against the Taliban and other militant groups, aiming to break a stalemate and force the militants to the negotiating table.

However, the Taliban have dismissed suggestions they have been weakened by the new strategy, and the past week has shown their capacity to mount deadly, high-profile attacks is undiminished, even in the heavily protected centre of Kabul.

The US-led international force in Afghanistan vowed its support for the Afghan government and armed forces in their `dif ficult and dangerous work`, adding that none of its members had been killed or wounded in the blast.

Target of attack Saturday is a working day in Afghanistan and the streets were full when the blast took place at around lunchtime in a busy part of the city close to shops and markets and near a number of foreign embassies and government buildings.

Mirwais Yasini, a member of parliament who was nearby when the explosion occurred, said an ambulance approached the checkpoint and blew up. The target was apparently an interior ministry building but the victims were mainly people who happened to be in the street.

Buildings hundreds of metres away were shaken by the force of the blast, which left torn bodies strewn on the street amid piles of rubble, debris and wrecked cars.

The casualty toll is the worst since 150 people were killed in a truck bomb explosion last May near the German embassy, an attack that prompted a major reinforcement of security aimed at preventing similar vehicle-borne attacks.

With much of central Kabul now a heavily fortified zone of high concrete blast walls and police checkpoints, there were angry questions about how the bomber had been able to get through and set off the blast.

`Officials must be held responsible,` said former deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi.

People helped walking-wounded away as ambulances with sirens wailing inched their way through the traf fic-clogged streets of the city centre.

`I was sitting in the of fice when the explosion went off,` said Alam, an office worker whose head was badly cut in the blast.

`All the windows shattered, the building collapsed and everything came down.`-Agencies