Suicide bombing of Nato HQ in Kabul kills seven

Author: By Rahim Faiez, Associated Press

The bomber evaded several rings of Afghan police and detonated his explosives
at the doorstep to the international military headquarters, an assault
possibly aimed at sending the message that the Taliban can attack anywhere
as Afghans gear up for their second-ever direct presidential election.
Militants have warned Afghans not to vote and have threatened to attack
voting sites.

The Nato headquarters ? where top commander US Gen. Stanley McChrystal is
based ? sits beside the US Embassy and shares the same street as the
presidential palace. The explosion was the first major attack in Kabul since
February, when eight Taliban militants struck three government buildings
simultaneously in the heart of the city, an assault that killed 20 people
and the eight assailants.

Afghanistan has braced for attacks ahead of the election. International
workers in the country were planning on working from home over the next week
or had been encouraged to leave the country. US, Nato and Afghan troops were
working to protect voting sites, particularly in regions where militants
hold sway.

Bloodied and dazed Afghans wandered the street after Saturday’s blast, which
rattled the capital and sent a black plume of smoke skyward. Children ? many
of whom congregate outside the Nato gate to sell gum to Westerners ? were
among the wounded. Windows of nearby antique shops were shattered and blood
smeared the ground.

The Taliban claimed responsibility and said the target was the Nato
headquarters and the US Embassy some 150 metres down the street. A top Kabul
police official blamed al-Qaida.

Brig. Gen. E. Tremblay, the spokesman for the Nato-led force, said some
soldiers in the International Security Assistance Force were wounded in the
8:35 a.m. blast. He did not say how many. The explosion occurred 30 metres
from Nato’s front gate, he said. Pointing to the civilian casualties,
Tremblay said the Taliban were “indiscriminately killing civilians.”

Afghan security forces stopped the vehicle in front of Nato headquarters, and
then the bomber detonated the explosives, Tremblay said.

“The security measures in place have stopped cold the bombers as planned,” he
said, calling the latest attack an example of the “residual risk” that
remains despite the safety measures taken. “It’s very difficult to stop a
suicide bomber.”

The blast killed seven Afghans and wounded 91, Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the
spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said.

Four Afghan soldiers and Awa Alam Nuristani, a member of parliament and
President Hamid Karzai’s campaign manager for women, were among the wounded,
the ministry said.

“I was drinking tea in our office when a big explosion happened,” said Abdul
Fahim, an Afghan in his mid-20s who sustained leg injuries. “I lay on the
ground and then I saw wounded victims everywhere, including police and
civilians.”

The chief of Kabul’s criminal investigation department, Abdul Ghafar
Sayadzada, said 272 kilograms of explosives were used, and that because of
the amount he suspected al-Qaida was involved. The attacker passed three
police checkpoints, Sayadzada said.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the blast
and said the bomb contained 500 kilograms of explosives. Mujahid at first
said the bomber was on foot, then later called back and said it was a
suicide car bomb attack.

The attack falls in line with increasingly spectacular and sophisticated
strikes carried out by Afghanistan militants. The Taliban have carried out
several coordinated attacks in the last several months with multiple teams
of insurgents assaulting government sites. Military analysts have said the
increased sophistication comes from training by al-Qaida operatives.

Nato headquarters has several large, cement blocks and steel gates that
prevent anyone from reaching the entrance, and the bomber was not able to
breach those barriers. Afghanistan’s Transportation Ministry lies across the
street from Nato headquarters.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said a suicide bomber named Ahmadullah from
the Bagrami district of Kabul province carried out today’s attack.

A driver from the nearby Defense Ministry said he took at least 12 people to
the hospital. Most were seriously wounded, said the driver, who spoke to an
Associated Press reporter at the scene but didn’t want to give his name
because of safety concerns.

Kabul has been relatively quiet over the last half year, though militants have
launched a barrage of rockets into the capital this month, most of which
landed harmlessly in open spaces.

Security has increased over the last several weeks in preparation for
Thursday’s vote.

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