Kabul reels after deadly truck bombing

AFP , Thursday 1 Jun 2017

People hold lit candles for the victims of Wednesday's blast in Kabul, Afghanistan June 1, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

Kabul was reeling Thursday from its deadliest attack since 2001, with anguished families burying their dead as authorities cleared away mangled wreckage and public anger mounted over the government's failure to protect citizens in the heart of the capital.

No group has so far claimed Wednesday's attack, launched from a sewage tanker packed with explosives, which tore a massive crater in the ground and killed at least 90 people, mainly civilians, while wounding hundreds.

The brazen attack during the holy fasting month of Ramadan highlighted the ability of militants to strike even in the capital's most secure district, home to the presidential palace and foreign embassies that are enveloped in a maze of concrete blast walls.

Angry citizens demanded answers from the government over the perceived intelligence failure leading to the assault, which underscores spiralling insecurity in Afghanistan.

"For how long will we have to tolerate this bloodshed in our country?" a sobbing resident asked on local Tolo News.

"I have lost my brother in the blast and the government is constantly failing to provide us with security."

Authorities swept off debris and shards of glass littered across the streets, and cleared away the charred carcasses of blown-up vehicles, as shocked residents held emotionally charged funerals.

With more than 400 people wounded, the injured spilled over into hospital hallways as huge crowds gathered outside waiting for news of their loved ones or searching for still missing relatives.

Health officials warned some victims may never be identified as their bodies were torn into pieces or burned beyond recognition.

Doctors at the crowded Wazir Akbar Khan hospital performed dozens of back-to-back surgeries Wednesday to save the wounded, some not even stopping to break their Ramadan fast, witnesses said.

Afghanistan's intelligence agency has blamed the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network for the attack. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is expected to approve the execution of 11 Taliban and Haqqani prisoners, a government source told AFP, in apparent retaliation to the assault.

The Taliban -- currently in the midst of their annual "spring offensive" -- denied they were involved.

The Haqqani Network, long thought to have ties to neighbouring Pakistan's shadowy military establishment, is led by Sirajuddin Haqqani -- who is also the Taliban's deputy leader. It has carried out numerous attacks in Kabul, including the 2008 Indian embassy bombing that killed almost 60 people.

In another retaliatory measure, Afghanistan cancelled proposed home and away cricket fixtures with Pakistan, saying it could not play against "a country where terrorists are housed and provided safe havens".

Global outrage swelled Thursday over the blast, the deadliest single attack in Kabul since the Taliban were toppled from power in a 2001 US-led invasion.

US President Donald Trump told Ghani in a phone call that the timing of the attack during Ramadan underscores "the barbaric nature of the terrorists who are enemies of all civilised people".

The lights at the Eiffel Tower were switched off on Wednesday night to honour the scores of victims.

The explosion, which Kabul residents compared to an earthquake, left several embassies damaged.

At least 11 Afghan guards working for the US embassy were among those killed and 11 American citizens working as contractors in Kabul were among the wounded, US officials have said.

Germany said an Afghan guard had been killed at its embassy, which was "in the immediate vicinity" of the attack, while several other countries also reported damage to their missions.

Germany on Thursday announced a temporary suspension of group deportations of rejected Afghan asylum seekers following the Kabul attack. The European nation has drawn criticism for sending back Afghans to an increasingly dangerous country.

Frequent mass casualty attacks made the city the deadliest place in Afghanistan for civilians in the first quarter of 2017, according to the United Nations.

Afghan troops backed by US and NATO forces have been struggling to beat back the insurgents, and the White House is considering sending thousands more soldiers to break the deadlock in the battle against the Taliban.

US troops in Afghanistan number about 8,400 now, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies. They mainly serve in an advisory capacity -- a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago.

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