Afghanistan bombing kills 7, hurts 91 near U.S. headquarters

KABUL, Afghanistan — A massive car bomb apparently driven by a suicide bomber exploded outside the front gate of the headquarters of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan Saturday morning, killing at least seven people and rattling nerves throughout the capital.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said at least 91 people were injured in the explosion, which struck at about 9:30 a.m. local time. The blast stripped the leaves from trees and broke out windows in the Ministry of Transportation and Civil Aviation opposite the heavily guarded military headquarters. Hulks of burned out cars caught in the explosion littered the street.

Sayed Abdul Ghaffar Sayedzada, the head of the Kabul police department's criminal investigation division, blamed the blast on the Taliban and said it was an effort to disrupt planning for Thursday's presiential election.

"It was a plot to disrupt the tranquility and calm of the election preparations," Sayedzada said.

No Americans were reported injured in the blast, which occurred on a heavily patrolled street where parked cars are not allowed. Sayedzada attributed the blast to a "terrorist suidice bomber."

The headquarters of the so-called International Security Assistance Force, the formal name for the U.S.-led coalition battling Afghanistan's radical Islamist Taliban, houses the offices of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was not immediately known if McChrystal was there at the time of the explosion.

But the blast, the worst violence in the Afghan capital, immediately raised questions of how the Taliban had been able to come so close to so critical an installation.

Authorities have feared the Taliban would launch attacks in the capital in the run-up to the election, which pits President Hamid Karzai against dozens of would-be successors. Karzai is expected to dominate Thursday's balloting but must win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the vote and have warned Afghans that voters would be considered legitimate military targets. In teh wake of Saturday's explosion, some officials and diplomats canceled meetings.

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