World News

Blast in Kabul diplomatic district, eight killed

KABUL (Reuters) - A suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle outside a former vice president’s home in the heavily secured main diplomatic and government residential neighbourhood of the Afghan capital, killing eight people and wounding dozens.

The wreckage of the bomber’s car was in flames outside the gate to the Heetal Hotel, a small hotel used by foreigners in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, sending thick black smoke into the sky.

The home of former vice president Ahmad Zia Massoud, brother of late anti-Soviet guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, was heavily damaged. A police source said the former vice president appeared to be the intended target.

A Reuters photographer at the scene saw Massoud being escorted away from his house unharmed, surrounded by the flaming wreckage of the car. The house next to Massoud’s, a guest house run by an Indian company, was also badly damaged.

“The information I have is that eight people were killed. Forty people are wounded. That’s the final (toll),” Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said.

The blast came as President Hamid Karzai was due to begin speaking at an anti-corruption conference elsewhere in the Afghan capital. His speech was briefly delayed.

Attacks in Kabul have increased over the past year, with militants hitting high-profile targets such as government buildings and guest houses catering for the influx of foreigners working for contractors and aid groups.

Tuesday’s strike took place a few blocks from a guest house

Taliban suicide bombers stormed last month, killing six U.N. staff -- the militants’ most audacious attack on foreign civilians since the war’s start in 2001. The United Nations responded to that attack by withdrawing hundreds of foreigners.

The fortified Heetal was damaged in Tuesday’s blast, though not as heavily as nearby houses in the district, home to officials, aid organisations and diplomatic residences. Indian national Harjeet Singh, a guest at the hotel, said some guests had been wounded and taken to hospital.

Khaled Danesh, a 20-year old office worker at a logistics company across the street from the attack was injured when glass and debris from the impact of the blast hit the back of his head. The collar of his traditional Afghan shirt was covered in blood.

“We were working in the office. When we took breakfast in the morning, suddenly the blast occurred,” Danesh said.

“I am injured in three places in my head ... I’m thankful to Allah that I got saved and I am well,” he added, pointing to injuries he had covered with a knitted hat.

Lingering near the bomb blast, an Afghan man kept his mobile phone pressed to ear as he tried to persuade police to let him get closer to the guest-house.

“My brother could be dead, he’s a guard at the Heetal ... I keep phoning him but his phone is switched-off,” Nabi said.

Additional reporting by Peter Graff and Sayed Salahuddin; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Bill Tarrant