KABUL (Reuters) - A Taliban bomber blew up a police bus in the heart of Kabul on Sunday, killing 24 people in one of the deadliest suicide strikes to hit Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.
The blast tore apart the bus, wounding dozens of bystanders, wrecking several other vehicles and scattering body parts. It was the fifth suicide attack in three days in the country, suggesting an escalation in use of the tactic.
Official death tolls changed throughout the day, reflecting chaos at the scene and in hospitals. Police initially said more than 35 people were killed, but officials revised that down to 24.
That would still make it one of the deadliest suicide bombs since the Taliban were toppled, and the worst insurgent bomb attack of any kind since a car bomb killed 26 in 2002.
President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, calling it an attempt to block the training of Afghanistan’s Western-led police force.
“The enemies of Afghanistan have lost the capability to fight our forces face to face and are resorting to these cowardly tactics,” said Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel, who gave the final figure of 24 dead.
The Interior Ministry said five of the wounded were foreigners, including two Japanese, a Korean and two Pakistanis. Earlier reports that foreigners had been killed proved false.
A police officer at the scene, outside the Kabul police chief’s headquarters, said he had seen the bomber leap on to the bus as it was moving slowly away, its door wide open.
“It was a very, very successful suicide attack,” a Taliban commander, Mullah Hayatullah Khan, told Reuters by satellite phone. “We have plans for more successful attacks in future.”
The Taliban and their al Qaeda allies have adopted the tactics of Iraq’s insurgency to try to dispel the notion that government and foreign forces are in control of the country.
Eighteen bodies, mostly police officers, and 10 wounded had been taken to nearby Jamhuriat Hospital, a doctor there said.
Crowds mobbed the hospital to check if relatives and friends were among the dead and injured.
Doctors set up a triage ward in the hospital’s front yard. The body of a police officer lay on the grass, shrouded in a sheet and surrounded by blood-soaked garments. A male relative wailed into a mobile phone, while friends tried to console him.
The bomb exploded during the morning rush hour, at a time when buses are ferrying police officers to their beats.
The spate of suicide bombs follows claims by Afghan, NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces to have subdued insurgents in an aggressive spring campaign against Taliban strongholds in the south and east.
On Friday and Saturday there were four suicide attacks in the south, centre and north of the country, including a blast in Kabul on Saturday. At least 14 people were killed in those attacks, including a Dutch soldier.