Afghan officials say Taliban militants have attacked (Watch the video clip) an office of the country’s main security agency in Kabul, killing at least 30 people and wounding more than 300.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms” in a statement from the presidential palace, only a few hundred meters away from the scene of the blast in central Kabul.
The attack — near the defense ministry in the capital’s central first district — targeted an office that houses a National Directorate of Security unit responsible for protecting government officials.
Mohammad Ismail Kawusi, the health ministry’s public-relations director, told RFE/RL that at least 30 people were killed in the attack and 198 people were taken by ambulance to various hospitals. Numerous others were wounded, he said.
Casualties included both civilians and members of Afghan security forces.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack which began with a suicide car bomb during the height of the morning rush hour, and security forces and militants then exchanged gunfire, witnesses near the scene said.
A police commander, Obaidullah Tarakhail, said the blast was “one of the most powerful explosions I have ever heard in my life.”
He added that he couldn’t see or hear anything for 20 minutes after the initial explosion. “All around was dark and covered with thick smoke and dust,” he said.
The explosion also severely damaged dozens of apartment buildings, shops, and government buildings in the area.
Pictures showed windows blown out at the front of an office that houses a National Directorate of Security (NDS) unit.
The Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive on April 12, and fighting has raged around the symbolically important northern city of Kunduz since then, although the capital had been relatively quiet.
Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth-largest city, fell briefly to the Taliban last September in the biggest blow to Ghani’s government since NATO-led forces ended their combat operations at the end of 2014.
The Taliban said on their Pashto-language website that they had carried out the suicide bombing on “Department 10”, an NDS unit which is responsible for protecting government ministers and VIPs.
They said a suicide car bomber blew up the main gate at the front of the office, allowing other fighters, including more suicide bombers, to enter the heavily guarded compound.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a separate statement that the attackers were engaged in a gun battle with Afghan security forces inside the building.
It was not immediately possible to verify the details of the Taliban’s claim with government officials. The Islamist group often exaggerates details of attacks against government and military targets.
The Taliban-led insurgency has gained strength since the withdrawal of most international combat troops, and the Taliban are believed to be stronger than at any point since they were driven from power by U.S.-backed forces in 2001.
A thick plume of black smoke was seen rising from the area near the sprawling U.S. embassy complex in the center of Kabul immediately after the blast.
Warning sirens blared out for some minutes from the embassy compound, which is also close to the headquarters of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission.
The U.S. embassy and the NATO mission both said they were not affected by the blast.