Suicide bomb kills at least 20 people in Southern Afghanistan
Taliban claims responsibilty along with near-daily attacks since collapsed US peace talks
Afghan security forces investigate the site where a Taliban car bomb detonated near an intelligence services building in Qalat in Zabul province. (Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images
A powerful early morning suicide truck bomb has devastated a hospital in southern Afghanistan, killing as many as 20 people and wounding more than 90 others, an official said.
The Taliban, who claimed responsibility for the bombing, have carried out near-daily attacks since peace talks with the US collapsed earlier this month.
Thursday’s massive explosion destroyed part of the hospital in Qalat, the capital of southern Zabul province, and left a fleet of ambulances broken and battered.
Residents, many of whom had come to see sick family members, used shawls and blankets to carry casualties inside the destroyed building, while authorities scrambled to take the worst of the wounded to hospitals in nearby Kandahar.
In the hours immediately after the explosion, there were contradictory figures of the dead and wounded. The provincial governor’s spokesman Gul Islam Seyal put the death toll at 12 but said authorities were on the scene sifting through the debris. Atta Jan Haqbayan, head of the provincial council, put the death toll at 20.
Morning prayers had just finished when worshippers were stunned by the ear-splitting blast that destroyed parts of a mosque next to the hospital, said Mahboob Hakimi, a resident of Qalat.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said the target was a nearby intelligence office, which he claimed was destroyed and “tens of intelligence operatives killed/wounded”.
Mr Haqbayan said the wall of the National Security Department (NDS) building was damaged. He could not say whether any personnel were among the casualties.
Provincial governor Rahmatullah Yarmal said many of the dead and wounded were women and children. On Twitter, an Afghan National Security Forces soldier posted a picture of a six-month-old child, saying troops were searching through the rubble for the parents and seeking the public’s help.
President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, condemned the attack, tweeting that the Taliban “continue to target civilians while their leaders travel to Iran and Russia”, a reference to the Taliban negotiators’ recent forays seeking support abroad.
The violence has further rattled the country as it prepares for national elections later this month. Two separate bombings on Tuesday, including one that targeted Mr Ghani’s election rally, killed 48 people, mostly civilians. The Taliban claimed both attacks.