Officials say 63 killed, 151 wounded in Afghan car bombing

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A wounded man is assisted at the site of an explosion in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018. The Interior Ministry says a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul leaves dozens wounded. | AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini

KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide bomber driving an ambulance killed at least 95 people and wounded 158 more in an attack claimed by the Taliban in the Afghan capital Kabul, authorities said. The bombing Saturday came just a week after Taliban militants killed 22 at an international hotel in the city.

The attacker used the ambulance to get through a security checkpoint in central Kabul, telling police he was taking a patient to a nearby hospital, said Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesperson for the Interior Ministry. He then detonated his explosives at a second checkpoint, Rahimi said.

“The majority of the dead in the attack are civilians, but of course we have military casualties as well,” Rahimi said. He said four suspects had been arrested and were being questioned but he didn’t elaborate.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the bombing, which sent thick, black smoke into the sky from the site near the government’s former Interior Ministry building. Also nearby are the European Union and Indian consulates.

The powerful explosion was felt throughout the capital and covered the blast area in smoke and dust. At the scene, dozens of vehicles were damaged or destroyed. Several shops, including some selling antiques and photography equipment, were also destroyed.

Windows at nearby Jamhuriat government hospital were shattered and its walls damaged. People ran out to help and ambulances arrived to transport dozens of wounded to area hospitals.

The International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the attack in a tweet, saying: “The use of an ambulance in today’s attack in #Kabul is harrowing. This could amount to perfidy under IHL. Unacceptable and unjustifiable.”

It was the second successful Taliban attack in a week on high security targets in the city.

Last Saturday, six Taliban militants attacked the Intercontinental Hotel, leaving 22 people dead, including 14 foreigners. Some 150 guests fled the gun battle and fire sparked by the assault by shimmying down bedsheets from the upper floors. The U.S. State Department said multiple American citizens were killed and injured in the attack.

Afghan security forces have struggled to fight the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014.

President Donald Trump has pursued a plan that involves sending thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and envisions shifting away from a “time-based” approach to one that more explicitly links U.S. assistance to concrete results from the Afghan government. Trump’s U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, said after a recent visit to Afghanistan that Trump’s policy was working and that peace talks between the government and the Taliban are closer than ever before.

On Dec. 28 a suicide bomber and other explosions at a Shiite cultural center in Kabul killed at least 41 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group that may have been aimed at a pro-Iran news outlet based in the building.

On Wednesday, IS militants stormed the offices of Save the Children in eastern Afghanistan killing four and triggering a standoff with police that lasted almost 10 hours. The Islamic State group was involved in at least 10 fatal attacks in Afghanistan last year.

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