A massive explosion rocked a highly secure diplomatic area of Kabul during rush hour on Wednesday morning, killing at least 80 and injuring 350.
Authorities said the blast– believed caused by a suicide car bombing–was so heavy that more than 30 vehicles were either destroyed or damaged at the site of the attack.
“We don’t know at this moment what was the target of the attack, but most of the casualties are civilians,” said Najib Danish, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Signmar Gabriel said employees of the German Embassy in Kabul were wounded and an Afghan security guard was killed. The Foreign Ministry activated a crisis team to help deal with the aftermath
Windows were shattered in shops, restaurants and other buildings up to a half mile from the blast site.
“There are a large number of casualties, but I don’t know, how many people are killed or wounded,” said an eyewitness at the site, Gul Rahim.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast but both the Taliban and the Islamic State group have staged large-scale attacks in the Afghan capital in the past.
The blast comes a day after a massive bomb outside a popular ice cream parlor in central Baghdad and a rush hour car bomb in another downtown area killed at least 31 people in Iraqi.
The neighborhood is considered Kabul’s safest area, with foreign embassies protected by dozens of 10-foot-high blast walls and government offices, guarded by police and national security forces. The Afghan Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Palace are in the area as well.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has strongly condemned the massive attack, saying in a statement “the terrorists, even in the holy month of Ramadan, the month of goodness, blessing and prayer, are not stopping the killing of our innocent people.”
Last month, the Afghan Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive, promising to build their political base in the country while focusing military assaults on the international coalition and Afghan security forces.
The United States now has more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations. In the past year, they have largely concentrated on thwarting a surge of attacks by the Taliban, who have captured key districts, such as Helmand province, which U.S. and British troops had fought bitterly to return to the government.