40 killed as Kabul blast rips through Indian Embassy wall

Indian Foreign Minister says four Indians among dead, including the military attache and a diplomat.

Afghan bomb 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Afghan bomb 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
By AMIR SHAH Associated Press Writer KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - A car bomb ripped through the front wall of the Indian Embassy in central Kabul on Monday, killing 40 people in what appeared to be the deadliest attack in Afghanistan's capital since the fall of the Taliban. The massive explosion detonated by a suicide bomber damaged two embassy vehicles entering the compound, near where dozens of Afghans line up every morning to apply for visas. The embassy is located on a busy, tree-lined street near Afghanistan's Interior Ministry in the city center. Several nearby shops were damaged or destroyed in the blast, and smoldering ruins covered the street. The explosion rattled much of the Afghan capital. "Several shopkeepers have died. I have seen shopkeepers under the rubble," said Ghulam Dastagir, a shopkeeper who was wounded in the blast. Najib Nikzad, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said the blast killed 40 people. Earlier, Abdullah Fahim, the spokesman for the Ministry of Public Health, said the attack killed 28 and wounded 141, but an update of the number of injured was not immediately available. The Interior Ministry said six police officers and three embassy guards were among the dead. In Delhi, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said four Indians, including the military attache and a diplomat, were killed in the attack. The blast also killed five Afghan security guards at the nearby Indonesian Embassy, where windows were shattered and doors and gates broken. Two diplomats were slightly wounded, Indonesia's foreign ministry said. In Washington, Gordon Johndroe, a White House national security spokesman, offered condolences to the blast victims. "Extremists continue to show their disregard for all human life and their willingness to kill fellow Muslims as well as others," he said. "The United States stands with the people of Afghanistan and India as we face this common enemy." Afghanistan has seen a sharp rise in violence from Taliban militants in recent months. Insurgents are packing bombs with more explosives than ever, one reason why more US and NATO troops were killed in June than any month since the 2001 invasion. Still, a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, denied that the militants were behind the bombing. The Taliban tend to claim responsibility for attacks that inflict heavy tolls on international or Afghan troops, and deny responsibility for attacks that primarily kill Afghan civilians. "Whenever we do a suicide attack, we confirm it," Mujahid said. "The Taliban did not do this one." The 8:30 a.m. explosion appeared to be the deadliest attack in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. It was the deadliest in Afghanistan since a suicide bomber killed more than 100 people at a dog fighting competition in Kandahar in February. President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing and said it was carried out by militants trying to rupture the friendship between Afghanistan and India. The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, hinted that the attack was carried out with help from Pakistan's intelligence service, saying that "terrorists have carried out this attack in coordination and consultation with some of the active intelligence circles in the region." Pakistan's foreign minister, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said it condemned the attack and terrorism in all forms. Afghanistan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta visited the embassy shortly after the attack, ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmed Baheen said. "India and Afghanistan have a deep relationship between each other. Such attacks of the enemy will not harm our relations," Spanta told the embassy staff, according to Baheen. The Indian ambassador and his deputy were not inside the embassy at the time of the blast, Baheen said. Militants have frequently attacked Indian offices and projects around Afghanistan since launching an insurgency after the ouster of the Taliban at the end of the 2001. Many Taliban militants have roots in Pakistan, which has long had a troubled relationship with India. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the Islamic militia was supported by Pakistan, India's arch-rival. Pakistan today remains wary of strengthening ties between Afghanistan and India. The United Nations' envoy to Afghanistan said that "in no culture, no country, and no religion is there any excuse or justification for such acts." "The total disregard for innocent lives is staggering and those behind this must be held responsible," the envoy, Kai Eide, said. The UN sent an e-mail to its staff advising them to stay off Kabul's roads because of reports that a second suicide car bomber was in the city. The embassy attack was the sixth suicide bombing in Kabul this year. Insurgent violence has killed more than 2,200 people - mostly militants - in Afghanistan this year, according to an Associated Press count of official figures. The embassy in the last several days had beefed up security by installing large, dirt-filled blast walls often used by military forces. While Afghanistan has seen increasing violence in recent months, Kabul has been largely spared the bomb attacks that Taliban militants use in their fight against Afghan and international troops. In September 2006, a suicide bomber near the gates of the Interior Ministry killed 12 people and wounded 42 others. After that blast, additional guards and barriers were posted on the street. In two separate bombings Monday against police convoys in the country's south, seven officers were killed and 10 others were wounded, officials said. In Uruzgan province, a roadside bomb killed four police on patrol and wounded seven others, said provincial police chief Juma Gul Himat. In the Zhari district of Kandahar, another roadside blast killed three officers and wounded three others, said district chief Niyaz Mohammad Sarhadi. NATO's International Security Assistance Force, meanwhile, said one of its soldiers died in an attack in the south on Sunday.