KABUL (Reuters) – A bomb hidden in an ambulance killed at least 95 people and wounded about 158 in the Afghan capital Kabul on Saturday when it blew up at a police checkpoint in a busy part of the city that was crowded with pedestrians.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide blast, a week after they claimed an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in which more than 20 people were killed.
An interior ministry spokesman blamed the Haqqani network, a militant group affiliated with the Taliban which Afghan and Western officials consider to be behind many of the biggest attacks on urban targets in Afghanistan.
As medical teams struggled to handle the casualties pouring in, some of the wounded were laid out in the open, with intravenous drips set up next to them in hospital gardens.
“It’s a massacre,” said Dejan Panic, coordinator in Afghanistan for the Italian aid group Emergency, which runs a nearby trauma hospital that treated dozens of wounded.
Hours after the blast, a health ministry spokesman said the casualty toll had risen to at least 95 killed and 158 wounded.
Saturday’s explosion capped a violent week in Afghanistan, with the siege at the Intercontinental Hotel and another attack on an office of the aid group Save the Children in the eastern city of Jalalabad. That attack was claimed by Islamic State.
The wave of attacks has put pressure on President Ashraf Ghani and his U.S. allies, who have expressed growing confidence that a new more aggressive military strategy has succeeded in driving Taliban insurgents back from major provincial centres.
The United States has stepped up its assistance to Afghan security forces and increased its air strikes against the Taliban and other militant groups, aiming to break a stalemate and force the insurgents to the negotiating table.
However, the Taliban have dismissed suggestions they have been weakened by the new strategy, and the past week has shown their capacity to mount deadly, high-profile attacks is undiminished, even in the heavily protected centre of Kabul.
Washington, which has accused Pakistan of giving assistance to the Taliban and has cut off some aid to Islamabad, urged all countries to take “decisive action” to stop the violence.
“There can be no tolerance for those who support or offer sanctuary to terrorist groups,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.
Pakistan, which denies the accusations, condemned the attack and called for “concerted efforts and effective cooperation among the states to eradicate the scourge of terrorism.”