Suicide car bomb hits Kabul

More than 40 killed, 150 hurt in blast at Indian Embassy

July 08, 2008|By M. Karim Faiez and Laura King | M. Karim Faiez and Laura King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

KABUL, Afghanistan - The car bomb that killed more than 40 people outside the Indian Embassy here yesterday stoked regional tensions and threatened to erode already diminishing confidence in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Afghanistan's Interior Ministry indirectly blamed Pakistan for the suicide attack, the deadliest in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban movement in 2001. Nearly 150 people were injured in the bombing, an audacious strike in what previously had been considered a well-secured area of the Afghan capital.

Although Pakistan swiftly condemned the attack, it was likely to generate more acrimony between the two neighbors, both considered key U.S. allies in the fight against Islamic militants. Afghan officials this spring accused Pakistan's main intelligence service of having had a hand in an assassination attempt against Karzai in April. Last month, the Afghan leader threatened to send troops into Pakistan if authorities there could not stem the movement of insurgents across the border into his country.

Long-standing tensions between India and Pakistan have become entangled in the Afghan conflict. However, it was not immediately clear who carried out the bombing or why the Indian Embassy was targeted.

The bombing came amid surging violence in Afghanistan and as the writ of the Karzai government has been weakening. Many ordinary Afghans are disillusioned that daily life remains filled with hardship and fraught with danger six years after the U.S.-led invasion.

The bombing drew condemnation from the NATO-led International Security Assistance force, which is battling to subdue Taliban fighters in the country's long-restive south and increasingly violent east. Data released last month by the U.S. military showed attacks in the east up 40 percent. In the south, the military deployed 2,300 additional Marines in March to help allied forces in the Taliban's traditional homeland.

Fatalities among Western troops are running at their highest levels since the start of the war, with 127 killed this year, according to the independent Web site icasualties.org - on a pace to surpass last year's toll of 232.

But attacks like yesterday's, even if aimed at official installations, tend to sweep away the most vulnerable.

Witnesses said the bomber tried to ram a pair of diplomatic vehicles entering the Indian Embassy just after 8:30 a.m. But passersby on the thoroughfare in central Kabul, including women, infants and children, took the brunt of the powerful explosion, which reverberated across the city.

Injured people writhed in the debris-choked street, shrieking in pain, and a cloud of gray dust filled the air. Ambulances rushed to the scene, but some were caught in the capital's chaotic traffic jams and idled with sirens wailing.

The force of the explosion blew out the embassy's front gates, knocked down its perimeter wall and damaged buildings inside the compound. Nearly a dozen of the dead were thought to be Afghan men who had been waiting in a line outside the diplomatic mission, hoping to obtain Indian visas.

At nearby hospitals, there were wrenching scenes as people searched for loved ones. Jalauddin, 20, who like many Afghans uses only one name, was bleeding from cuts as he begged doctors for information. He and his brother were in the area of the embassy when the explosion hit.

"Now I cannot find him," he said, weeping.

Although suspicion fell on the Taliban, there was no immediate claim of responsibility, and news agencies cited a Taliban spokesman as denying any role. However, the insurgents often disclaim knowledge of attacks that kill and maim large numbers of civilians.

The veiled accusation against Pakistan came from Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, which said the attack had been carried out "in coordination and consultation with some of the active intelligence services in the region."

Karzai suggested that "enemies of peace" wanted to harm ties between India and Afghanistan. But he did not specifically blame any outside party.

Pakistan's support in the 1990s of the Taliban movement was part of a push by its shadowy intelligence agencies to create a counterweight to Indian influence. India in turn lent its support to opposition fighters who eventually coalesced into the American-allied Northern Alliance.

M. Karim Faiez and Laura King write for the Los Angeles Times.

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