80 killed as suicide truck bomb hits diplomatic sector in Kabul
A massive suicide truck bomb has rocked a highly secure diplomatic area of Kabul, killing 80 people and wounding as many as 350.
The attack left a scene of mayhem and destruction and sent a huge plume of smoke over the Afghan capital.
The target of the explosion in the Wazir Akbar Khan area was not immediately known, but Ismail Kawasi, spokesman for the public health ministry, said most of the casualties were civilians, including women and children.
It was one of the worst attacks Kabul has seen since the drawdown of foreign forces at the end of 2014. The bombing also raised serious questions about the Afghan government's ability to secure the war-battered nation.
Images from the scene showed the German embassy and several others heavily damaged. Germany, Japan and Pakistan said some of their embassy employees were hurt in the explosion.
The BBC said one of its drivers was killed and four of its journalists wounded. Afghanistan's private Tolo Television also reported a staffer killed, and Germany said an Afghan security guard outside its embassy was among those who died.
The explosion took place at the peak of Kabul's rush hour, when roads are packed with commuters. Najib Danish, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the bomber detonated his truck filled with explosives close to a busy intersection, leaving a gaping crater at least five metres deep.
The neighbourhood is considered Kabul's safest area, with foreign embassies protected by dozens of 10ft blast walls and government offices, guarded by police and national security forces.
The Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Palace are in the area, as are the British, Canadian, Chinese, Turkish and Iranian embassies.
The US embassy and the Nato mission are about half a mile from the site. Both condemned the attack and the alliance praised "the courage of Afghan Security Forces, especially the police and first responders".
TV footage showed shocked residents soaked in blood stumbling about, then being ferried away to hospitals. Passers-by stopped and helped the wounded into private cars, and others congregated outside the nearby Italian-run Emergency Hospital.
The Taliban issued a statement denying any involvement and condemning all attacks against civilians.
Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban, said the Kabul explosion had "nothing to do with the Mujahedeen of Islamic Emirate", as the Taliban call themselves.
Even though the Taliban claim they are only waging war against the Kabul government and foreign forces in Afghanistan, most casualties of their attacks have been civilians.
A statement from the Ministry of Interior Affairs condemned the attack "in the strongest terms".
"These heinous acts go against the values of humanity as well values of peaceful Afghans," it added.
President Ashraf Ghani also condemned the attack, which came days into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A statement from his office quoted Mr Ghani as saying that "the terrorists, even in the holy month of Ramadan, the month of goodness, blessing and prayer, are not stopping the killing of our innocent people".
Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said that along with the Afghan guard who was killed, a German diplomat was lightly wounded while an Afghan employee sustained severe injuries.
Neighbouring Pakistan denounced the "terrorist attack in Kabul" and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the bombing "caused damage to the residences of some Pakistani diplomats and staff, living in the close vicinity, and inflicted minor injuries to some".
China's foreign ministry said its embassy was partly damaged but that no employees or Chinese citizens were injured.
Germany has had troops in Afghanistan for 15 years, primarily concentrated in the north in and around Mazar-e-Sharif. They are one of the biggest contributors to the Nato-led Resolute Support mission with around 980 soldiers on the ground to support and train Afghan security forces.
Wednesday's explosion was so heavy that more than 50 vehicles were either destroyed or damaged.