KABUL: At least 50 children were among nearly 100 people wounded Monday when the Taliban detonated a powerful car bomb in an area of Kabul housing military and government buildings, officials said.
The rush-hour blast, which sent a plume of smoke into the air and shook buildings nearly two kilometres (1.2 miles) away, was followed by gunmen storming a building and triggering a gun battle with special forces in the Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of the Afghan capital.
The health ministry said at least one person had been killed and 93 wounded.
Among them were 50 children, the education ministry said in a statement, adding that most had been hurt by flying glass and were in stable condition.
Some social media images purportedly taken at a hospital showed wounded, stunned children in school uniforms, still clutching books as they arrived for treatment.
The Taliban claimed the attack, which came just two days after the insurgents began a seventh round of talks with the US in Qatar as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan’s September presidential election.
Militant spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the insurgents had targeted a defence ministry building in the area, which was quickly blocked off by Afghan forces and ambulances, with helicopter gunships seen overhead as gunfire continued.
Authorities have not confirmed the target, but Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said the area had been cordoned off by special forces who were “bringing down” the attackers, with at least two killed.
“Security forces also rescued 210 civilians from buildings nearby,” he said.
AFP reporters could hear gunshots and multiple smaller explosions as fighting continued nearly seven hours after the first blast.
“We were sitting inside the office when the world turned upside down on us,” Zaher Usman, an employee at a branch of the culture ministry, which he said stands just 150 metres (yards) from the blast.
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“When I opened my eyes, the office was filled with smoke and dust and everything was broken, my colleagues were screaming,” Usman told AFP by telephone.
Shams Amini, a spokesman for the Afghan Football Federation, told AFP that the blast occurred near their HQ gates, and said some colleagues had been injured.
Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices. “I was terrified,” Shamshad anchor Hashmat Stanikzai told AFP. A media watchdog said seven Shamshad journalists were among the wounded.
The attack came as the US was set to begin a third day of negotiations with the militants in Doha. There was no immediate confirmation if they would go ahead after the blast.
With the attack still ongoing, the Taliban spokesman in Doha again insisted that the insurgents will not negotiate with Kabul.
“Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government,” Suhail Shaheen tweeted.
A potential deal would see the US agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among Afghans who fear Washington will rush for the exits and allow the militants to return to some semblance of power.
In return, the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremism, as happened with Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
However, US officials have insisted that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, including intra-Afghan talks.