Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Kabul bomb: 'It felt like an earthquake, then everything came down'

Civilians in Afghan capital describe horror as huge explosion kills more than 80 and injures at least 350 in embassy district
 People wounded in the bomb blast in Kabul on 31 May.

Elias Naser looked shellshocked standing on the side of the road, a few hundred metres from where the car bomb went off, a bloodstained jacket neatly folded over his arm. “It’s someone else’s blood,” he said, eyeing an entrance to the hospital, waiting for news from his colleague admitted with severe injuries.

A suicide bomber had, on Wednesday morning during the rush-hour, detonated explosives that had been hidden in a sewage tanker on a pickup close to the German embassy in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of the capital.

More than 80 people were killed and at least 350 injured, according to the Afghan ministry of public health. It was one of the deadliest attacks in the Afghan capital since 2001. Hours after the explosion, plumes of smoke still wafted over the diplomatic enclave.

Naser had been at work inside the nearby Azizi Bank when he had felt a deep rumble. It had been followed by a blast that shattered everything around him. “First, it felt like an earthquake, then everything came down, windows, the ceiling. The electricity cut out,” he said.
 A crater in front of the German embassy in Kabul created by the huge explosion on 31 May.
The target of Wednesday’s attack, on the fifth day of the holy month of Ramadan, might have been foreign embassies – the area is home to the half a dozen embassies, including the French, and close to the presidential palace.

But outside the fortified security walls, where the car bomb left a crater several metres deep, it is mostly civilians on the crowded streets. Connecting two main traffic circles, the strip is open to pedestrians and vehicles, and is always busy, particularly in the morning.

A few hundred metres away, outside the Italian-run emergency hospital, also damaged in the blast, scores of people lined up anxious to hear from injured relatives and friends. Once in a while, a medic opened the door ajar to shout a name, causing commotion in the crowd.

Wailing women beat their fists against the metal gates, crying the names of loved-ones, while guards tried to maintain calm in the chaos. “My colleague is in there,” said one woman, describing how her co-worker had been burned in the face.

At one point, police officers got into a heated scuffle with medical personnel on the other side of the hospital gate, who were appearing to deny them entry with their weapons.

Two hours after the blast, groups of children streamed through the police barricades from the Amani school close to the blast site. Some looked shaken after being kept inside their classrooms for hours. Others held on to anxious-looking parents who had come to fetch them.

Such was the strength of the explosion it woke up civilians up to a mile away. Across a radius of several hundred metres shopkeepers were sweeping broken glass off sidewalks.

Entezar, a barber, said he was inside his shop when the explosion happened. “At first I didn’t know what smashed my windows. The whole window blew out,” he said, pointing to the shop’s facade.

A driver for the BBC, Mohammad Nazir, and Aziz Navin, a staff member for the ToloNews, an Afghan TV channel, were among those killed. Navin was found after colleagues had searched two hospitals, attempting to identify bodies burned beyond recognition, Lotfullah Najafizada, director of ToloNews, described on Facebook.
 An injured man in Kabul is helped after the bombing on Wednesday.
The attack was the latest in a string of extremely powerful explosions in Kabul over the past two years. As foreigners have gradually vacated the streets and receded behind security barriers, the insurgents’ bombs seem to have grown in magnitude. The consequence is that more civilians die.

According to the UN 923 Afghan children were killed in conflict last year, a record high and a 25% increase from 2015. The UN also reported the capital having the highest number of civilian casualties, followed by Helmand, Kandahar and Nangarhar.

The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack, though it came as the group was stepping up its annual “spring offensive”. The group was behind a similarly powerful attack , in April 2016, on an intelligence headquarters in central Kabul that killed more than 60 people and injured 300.

Self-declared Isis affiliates have also claimed responsibility for several recent bombings in the Afghan capital, including a powerful blast targeting an armoured Nato convoy that killed at least eight and wounded 28 on 3 May.

Isis also claimed an attack on a crowd of protesters in Kabul last summer, which killed up to 100 people.

On Wednesday the Afghan interior ministry said eight national army soldiers had died, but the majority of victims seemed to be civilians. An Afghan embassy guard was killed, according to Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel.

Hugo Llorens, the US charg√© d’affaires at the American embassy in Kabul, called the attackers “small but despicable and barbaric cults who only know death and destruction,” who had a “nihilistic opposition to the dream of a peaceful future for Afghanistan”.


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