Middle East

At least 50 children wounded in Taliban car bomb attack on Kabul

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Sixty-five people, including nine children, have been taken to hospital, with warnings that casualties could rise.

At least 50 children were among nearly 100 people wounded Monday when the Taliban detonated a powerful car bomb in an area of Kabul housing military and government buildings, officials said.

The rush-hour explosion sent a plume of smoke into the air above the Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of the Afghan capital and shook buildings up to two kilometres away, with an AFP reporter saying he could hear gunshots after the blast.

Kabul
Afghan security officials secure the scene of near teh bomb blast.
AAP

"At first, a car bomb took place and then several attackers took over a building. The area is cordoned off by the police special forces and (they) are bringing down the attackers," interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said. 

The health ministry said at least one person had been killed and 93 wounded.

Among them were 50 children, the education ministry said in a statement, adding that most had been hurt by flying glass and were in stable condition.

Some social media images purportedly taken at a hospital showed wounded, stunned children in school uniforms, still clutching books as they arrived for treatment.

In its statement, the education ministry said five schools had been partially damaged, and asked "all sides involved in fighting to guarantee the safety of students, teachers, education workers and schools".

Kabul
Nine children were taken to hospital after the blast.
AAP

The Taliban claimed the attack, which came just two days after the insurgents began a seventh round of talks with the US in Qatar as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan's September presidential election.

Militant spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid released a statement saying the insurgents had targeted a defence ministry building in the area, which was quickly blocked off by Afghan forces and ambulances, with helicopter gunships seen overhead as firing continued.

Authorities have not confirmed the target. The heavily-secured neighbourhood is home to some military and government buildings, including one shared by Afghanistan's intelligence agency and defence ministry, as well as the Afghan Football Federation and Cricket Board.

"We were sitting inside the office when the world turned upside down on us," Zaher Usman, an employee at a branch of the culture ministry, which he said stands just 150 metres (yards) from the blast.

Kabul
Smokes rises after the huge explosion in Kabul.
AAP

He said the blast appeared to have occurred near Gulbahar Tower, which contains a shopping mall and residential units and is next to a government building.

"When I opened my eyes, the office was filled with smoke and dust and everything was broken, my colleagues were screaming," Usman told AFP by telephone.

Brief lockdown 

Police said they do not yet know the target.

Shams Amini, a football federation spokesman, told AFP that the blast occurred near their HQ gates. 

"Some of our colleagues are trapped inside, we have reports of some injuries. We don't know if the attackers have entered the building," he said.

Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices but said it was not the target.

Kabul
An injured man is taken to hospital.
AAP

The nearby "Green Zone" diplomatic area was briefly put on lockdown, but later opened again.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but both the Taliban and the so-called Islamic State group are active in Kabul.

The explosion came two days after the Taliban and the US began their seventh round of talks in Qatar as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan's September presidential election.

The negotiations have so far centred on four issues - counter-terrorism, the foreign troop presence, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.

A potential deal would see the US agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among huge swathes of Afghans who fear the militants will return to some semblance of power.

In return, the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremist groups, as happened with Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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