A bomb placed inside an ambulance exploded on a busy Kabul street on Saturday, killing at least 95 people and injuring at least 158 others. The explosion comes a week after another attack shook the city.
KABUL, Afghanistan — A bomb placed in an ambulance set off a huge explosion on a busy Kabul street on Saturday, killing at least 95 people and injuring at least 158 others, Afghan officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which came days after a 15-hour siege by the militants at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul left 22 dead, including 14 foreigners.
The explosion occurred on a guarded street that leads to an old Interior Ministry building and several embassies, officials said. Many ministry departments still have offices there, and visitors line up every day for routine business.
“I saw a flame that blinded my eyes, then I went unconscious,” said Nazeer Ahmad, 45, who was wounded in the head. “When I opened my eyes, I saw bodies lying on the ground.”
“It’s a massacre,” said Dejan Panic, the coordinator in Afghanistan for the Italian aid group Emergency, which runs a nearby trauma hospital. At least 70 people were brought to the group’s Kabul hospital.
An uptick in violence across the country, particularly an increase in deadly attacks in urban centers that shut down large parts of cities, comes at a time when the country’s government has been in political disarray.
President Ashraf Ghani has struggled to build much consensus and has recently found himself in a protracted political showdown with a regional strongman that has eaten up much of administration’s energy. Atta Muhammad Noor, a powerful governor, was fired by the president but has refused to leave his post, raising fears that the escalating political tensions could undermine the country’s fragile security.
The carnage is also tied, analysts say, to President Trump’s decision last month to increase pressure on Pakistan, long seen as supporting the Taliban as a proxy force in Afghanistan. Mr. Trump made a gamble to try to tilt the long war, holding back security aid to Pakistan for what he called the country’s “lies and deceit.”
Many Afghan officials, at the time of the announcement, had feared an immediate escalation in violence as a retaliation and wondered whether their fragile administration could absorb it.
On Saturday, according to Baseer Mujahid, a spokesman for the Kabul police, the bomber drove past the first checkpoint at the entrance to the street.
“Police stopped the vehicle at the second checkpoint,” Mr. Mujahid said. “Then he tried to drive in from the wrong lane. Again, the police tried to stop him. But he detonated the explosive-laden vehicle.”
Ambulances and police trucks loaded up victims and took them to the city’s hospitals, which were overwhelmed by the number of wounded. Officials feared that the death toll could rise.
Many of the buildings and shops on the street were shattered, their windows were blown out. Chaos prevailed as security forces started brawling among themselves, and as family members begged the police to allow them on the street to seek news of loved ones.
“It is a critical situation,” said Waheed Majroh, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health.
At the time of the attack, Gen. Joseph L. Votel, commander of the United States Central Command, which overseas operations in the Middle East, was in Kabul. He had met with President Ghani, and officials said Pakistan had been the focus of much of the discussion.
The leader of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said in a statement: “Today’s attack is nothing short of an atrocity, and those who have organized and enabled it must be brought to justice and held to account.
“I am particularly disturbed by credible reports that the attackers used a vehicle painted to look like an ambulance, including bearing the distinctive medical emblem, in clear violation of an international humanitarian law.”
Fatima Faizi contributed reporting.