Suicide car bomber kills 17 outside Kabul’s Indian Embassy

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 8, 2009 

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A car bomb exploded outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul on Thursday, killing 17 people and wounding 76 in the second suicide attack on the embassy in 16 months.

Blast walls contained the explosion, and no one died inside the embassy or at the Ministry of Interior across the road. Dozens on the road were killed and wounded, however. The bomb exploded at 8:40 a.m. local time, when many victims were on their way to work.

"The explosion threw me off my bicycle, and I was unconscious," Mohammad Osman Shaor, a government worker, told Reuters from his hospital bed.

Abdul Rahman, 19, was hospitalized with blast injuries to his right eye, right arm and left foot. "I was on the street in front of the ministry, but I didn't see the car," he said.

The Afghan National Police said a Toyota SUV exploded when two policemen went up to tell the driver to move his vehicle. Those policemen as well as women and children are among the dead.

Officials said the toll would have been higher but that a nearby market was closed at the time. Also, the Indian embassy moved its visa issuance office to another location after last year's bomb, so there no longer are crowds gathered around the embassy's entrance.

The Ministry of Interior said the Taliban had claimed responsibility, with Jalaluddin Haqqani’s network considered the most likely culprit.

Haqqani, a militia commander who fought the Russians in Afghanistan decades ago, was responsible for the embassy attack last year. His tribal militia has strong ties to al Qaida and to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

The ISI has denied any role in last year's attack.

Pakistan objects to India's massive, $1.2 billion aid program in Afghanistan, however, as well as its prominent diplomatic presence with a large embassy and four consulates.

Islamabad claims that India's aggressive outreach is depriving Pakistan of the "strategic depth" it needs to contain what it views as the Indian threat.

"I don't think there is any doubt about it: Some rogue elements in the ISI are very upset about India's activities in Afghanistan, even though they are very soft, culture and construction initiatives," said Haroun Mir, the director of the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies.

It was the fourth suicide bomb in nine weeks in Kabul, and it comes as President Barack Obama is debating how to change U.S. strategy in the eight-year-old war.

A recent map by the International Council on Security, an international policy-research center, indicated that the Taliban insurgency is now in control of more than 80 percent of Afghanistan.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a statement deploring Thursday's attack: “There is no justification for this kind of senseless violence.”

Violence in Afghanistan is at the highest levels since the Taliban were routed in 2001, and the nation is struggling to resolve a presidential election marred by fraud.

Afghan police said that many of the most recent suicide bombs were left over from the run-up to the Aug. 20 presidential election.

Police said the sophistication of the bombs was increasing rapidly.

"This equipment is new and improved," Gen. Sayed Abdul Ghafar Sayed Zada said within a couple of hours of the blast. "These explosives are very sophisticated, not like a year ago."

The last suicide bomb was three weeks ago. Six Italian soldiers and 10 civilians died Sept. 17 when a huge blast hit the airport road near the U.S. Embassy.

On Sept. 8, several Afghans died when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle at the entrance to the Kabul airport.

On Aug. 15, seven people were killed and 90 wounded when a suicide bomber hit the entrance to NATO's headquarters in Kabul.

(Davison is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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