A bomb-packed ambulance blew up in a crowded area of Kabul on Saturday, killing at least 40 people and wounding 140 others, officials said, in one of the biggest blasts to rock the war-torn city in recent years.
The Taliban-claimed assault — the second carried out by the militant group in the Afghan capital in a week — triggered chaotic scenes as terrified survivors fled the area and hospitals were overwhelmed by the large number of wounded.
It came as both the insurgents and the Islamic State group have escalated their attacks on the capital, one of the deadliest places in Afghanistan for civilians.
An AFP reporter saw “lots of dead and wounded” civilians in the Jamuriate hospital, which is metres away from the blast and where medical staff struggled to treat the bloodied men, women and children lying on the floor in corridors.
“The latest toll from Kabul hospitals stands at 40 martyred and 140 wounded,” health ministry spokesman Waheed Majroh told AFP.
The blast happened in an area where several high-profile organisations, including the European Union, have offices. Members of the EU delegation in Kabul were in their “safe room” and there were no casualties, an official told AFP.
The force of the explosion shook windows of buildings at least two kilometres (more than a mile) away and caused some low-rise structures in the immediate vicinity to collapse.
The suicide bomber passed through at least one checkpoint in the ambulance, saying he was taking a patient to Jamuriate hospital, an interior ministry spokesman told AFP.
“At the second checkpoint he was recognised and blew his explosive-laden car,” Nasrat Rahimi said.
Twenty minutes before the blast an AFP reporter saw police checking ambulances several hundred metres from the scene of the explosion, as the drivers and patients stood on the street. Ambulances are rarely checked in the city.
The Taliban used social media to claim responsibility for the attack, which comes exactly a week after its insurgents stormed Kabul’s landmark Intercontinental hotel, killing at least 25 people, the majority foreigners.