Kabul blast kills dozens
The suicide attack on a bus in Afghanistan's capital is one of the deadliest in years.
By WASHINGTON POST
Published June 18, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Since winter, the Taliban had been promising a spring offensive. It didn't come. Instead, NATO and U.S. forces have pounded the group's positions, and killed its senior leadership.
But with summer well under way in Afghanistan, the insurgent group showed Sunday that it is still capable of mounting one of the most devastating insurgent strikes the country has seen.
In perhaps the deadliest suicide attack since the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001, a bomber hopped on a packed bus in downtown Kabul and triggered his explosives, killing 24 to 35 people and wounding dozens more. In 2002, 30 died in a blast in Kabul.
There was confusion about the toll. Police officials said 36 had died, but the chief later amended that number, adding that 52 people were wounded, including 38 who had to be hospitalized. It remains possible that more than 24 people died. Bodies were taken to more than one hospital and then released to families, perhaps preventing an accurate count.
A purported commander for the Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack.
The blast could be heard for miles. It sheared the top off the bus, which had been ferrying police recruits and trainers.
Kabul's police chief, Esmatullah Daulatzai, said the precise tactics of the attack were unclear. "Our investigation shows that a suicide attacker jumped into the vehicle and blew himself up, " he said.
Whatever the method, it was spectacularly lethal, unleashing shards of glass and metal into a crowded area beside police headquarters, the governor's office and the national archive. Two other vehicles were ripped apart by the explosion. The many injured included pedestrians waiting at an adjacent bus terminal.
Raz Muhammad, a policeman standing guard at headquarters, was among the first to reach the demolished bus. "Those in the front seats, their bodies were very ripped apart, " he said.
Hours later, three service members in the U.S.-led coalition and their Afghan interpreter died in the southern province of Kandahar when a roadside bomb detonated near their vehicle.
The Kabul attack raised fresh fears that the Taliban is acquiring more sophisticated weaponry with which to wage war against the government and its international backers. Security forces are concerned that the Taliban is adopting strategies and technologies from insurgents in Iraq.
"If you're in the terrorist business, it makes sense to look around at what works elsewhere. So we expect there's going to be some migration of tactics and perhaps weapons, " said Maj. John Thomas, spokesman for the separate NATO-led force, which patrols much of the country.
The attack in Kabul came at the height of the morning rush hour on a busy street near the Afghan capital's police headquarters.
"It was a horrible sound, " said Qurban Ali, a 38-year-old baker whose shop is down the street from the blast site. "Everything around me was suddenly covered with black smoke, and glass from the bus was flying toward me. Thank God I am safe."
The relatives of those who were not as lucky converged on a nearby hospital, where an air of chaos and desperation took hold. Already overwhelmed doctors - their hands covered in blood - were besieged by hundreds of people anxiously seeking information about their loved ones.
Abdul Qader, a 29-year-old plumber, rushed to the hospital after the blast to find out what had happened to his father, a 14-year police veteran. When he arrived, a doctor told him that his father had been killed.
"It's all the work of the Taliban, al-Qaida and Pakistan, " an anguished Qader said.
Sunday's attack was the fifth suicide bombing in Afghanistan in three days. The Taliban has asserted responsibility for all five.
Over the winter, the Taliban had boasted it was planning a major offensive for the spring. But until this month, security officials have been able to claim success in pre-empting them.
The latest attacks suggest that the Taliban may be regrouping.
"It was a very, very successful suicide attack, " a purported Taliban commander, Mullah Hayatullah Khan, told Reuters. "We have plans for more successful attacks in future."
Ali Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister, said the Taliban remains unpopular in Afghanistan and "every suicide attack actually creates more resentment against them. But as long as the people don't get protection from the government or from NATO, they'll be intimidated."
Information from the New York Times was used in this report.
Attacks this year
Some of the deadliest insurgent attacks in Afghanistan:
Sunday: A bomb rips through a bus carrying police instructors in Kabul, killing dozens of people.
May 20: A suicide bomber detonates himself in a crowded market in the eastern city of Gardez, killing 14.
May 19: A suicide bomber detonates himself next to German soldiers in Kunduz, killing three soldiers and seven civilians.
Feb. 27: A suicide bomber detonates himself outside the main U.S. base at Bagram Air Field, killing 23 people, during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.
[Last modified June 18, 2007, 01:23:03]
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