Kunduz: A Taliban suicide blast hit an army recruitment centre in northern Afghanistan late Monday, killing 36 people and wounding another 42 in the second attack on the base in three months.
The deadly blast is the latest in a string of attacks on Afghan security forces as they prepare to take responsibility for stability in parts of their war-torn country ahead of a total withdrawal of foreign combat troops by 2014.
The attack at the centre in Kunduz came four days after the province`s police chief was killed by a suicide bomber amid an upsurge in violence in the area in recent months.
"There was a suicide attack at the army recruitment centre in Kunduz city," Mehboubullah Sayedi, a spokesman for the governor of Kunduz province, said of the latest attack.
He said that according to "preliminary information" 33 people were killed, mostly volunteers who wanted to join the army, and more than 40 others injured.
Kargar Noorughli, a public health ministry spokesman in Kabul, later said the death toll had risen to 36, including women and children.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told AFP by telephone from an unknown location that the militant Islamist group was responsible for the bombing, the latest in a host of deadly attacks across Afghanistan in recent weeks.
"One of our comrades carried out a suicide attack against the army recruitment centre in Kunduz," Mujahed confirmed, saying that the bomber had walked into the facility with bombs strapped to his body.
It was the second attack on the army recruitment centre this year, after eight security personnel died when militants armed with suicide vests attacked in December.
Monday`s blast was condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who said four children were among those killed.
Karzai called it a "vile attack" and "an unforgivable act of terror against those who wanted to join in army ranks to protect their nation".
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen added his voice to the condemnation, saying: "The enemies of Afghanistan are threatened by a strong Afghan National Army and have therefore struck those citizens who were signing up to serve and secure Afghanistan`s future."
Last week, Kunduz provincial police chief Abdul Rahman Sayedkhili was killed by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle along with four other people in an attack also claimed by the Taliban.
Also in Kunduz, 31 people were killed in an attack on a census office in February.
Afghan police and army officers are frequently targeted by the Taliban and other insurgents who have been waging war on pro-government forces since being ousted from power in 2001.
Afghan security force numbers have been scaled up rapidly in preparation for assuming control of security from foreign forces and the Afghan army now has over 150,000 troops.
There are around 140,000 international troops in Afghanistan, some two-thirds of them from the United States.
Responsibility for security across the country is set to be handed to Afghan forces in a process due to start in July and be completed in 2014, allowing foreign combat forces to withdraw.
Last month, 19 people including 15 police and an intelligence agent died in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, in a series of attacks focused on police headquarters.
Also in February, 38 people died in an attack on a bank in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan, where police were collecting their pay, in the country`s deadliest attack since June.