KABUL (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed at least six people and wounded 23 more at a military hospital in a heavily guarded area of Kabul on Saturday, security officials said, the worst attack in the Afghan capital in months.
The bomber struck at 12:30 p.m. local time (5 p.m. EDT) in the cafeteria of the hospital where medical students were eating lunch, said Mohammad Zahir, head of the police crime investigation unit. He said the dead were students.
The hospital is in a high-security area near the U.S. embassy where several other foreign embassies and international organizations operate.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an emailed statement the group had sent two suicide bombers into the hospital and killed many. The Taliban launched a long-awaited “spring offensive” last month.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) condemned the attack.
“This attack on an Afghan hospital where sick and injured people are being treated is abhorrent and represents the lowest, most cowardly attack,” ISAF said in a statement.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said attacks on medical workers and hospitals are prohibited under international humanitarian law.
“Directing an attack against a zone established to shelter wounded and sick persons and civilians from the effects of hostilities is also illegal and prohibited,” UNAMA said in a statement.
Despite escalating violence in the 10th year of an increasingly unpopular war in Afghanistan, Kabul has been relatively peaceful in recent months.
In early April, a suicide bomber attacked an Afghan army bus on the outskirts of the capital, wounding 10 soldiers and civilians.
In January, a suicide attack on a supermarket frequented by foreigners killed nine people in the embassy district of Kabul.
The Taliban, which often inflates the number of casualties it inflicts, vowed last month to carry out attacks, including suicide bombings, on foreign and Afghan troops and government officials.
Despite the presence of up to 150,000 foreign troops, violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government by U.S.-backed Afghan forces. Last year both sides suffered record casualties.
Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Andrew Heavens