Kabul: The Taliban claimed responsibility for a large suicide car bomb that detonated on Saturday in the heart of the Afghan capital's most secure neighbourhood just five days before an election the Islamist group has vowed to disrupt.
Afghanistan's Defence Ministry said up to seven people were killed and 91 wounded in the blast, which hit outside the sprawling headquarters of the NATO-led international force, near the US embassy, in Kabul.
"The target was the US embassy, but we could not reach it," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news agency by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Mujahid said the bomb contained 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms) of explosives. He at first said the bomber was on foot, then later called back and said it was a suicide car bomb attack.
Mujahid said a suicide bomber named Ahmad carried out Saturday's attack.
A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force said there were some ISAF casualties. An official with the Afghan Ministry of Transport, whose headquarters bore the brunt of the blast, said dozens of employees were hurt by flying glass.
"Unfortunately, there are casualties," said Canadian Brigadier General Eric Tremblay, an ISAF spokesman. "I am not going to go into numbers. There's Afghan civilians and there are ISAF military."
The blast shattered windows in the area and shook buildings in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, home to most major foreign embassies and organisations in the capital.
It also rattled confidence in an August 20 Presidential Election which pits incumbent Hamid Karzai against 35 challengers. Two recent polls have Karzai with a comfortable lead over nearest challenger Abdullah Abdullah, but not enough to avoid a second round run-off.
The Taliban, stronger than at any time since they were driven from power eight years ago, have vowed to strike polling stations and threatened reprisals against voters.
Indian embassy, personnel safe
Meanwhile, India said its embassy in the Afghan capital and all the personnel working at the mission are safe.
"The mission is safe. Our personnel are safe," MEA officials said here soon after the suicide car bomb attack took place near the NATO headquarters.
Officials at the Ministry of External Affairs got in touch with the embassy immediately and were told that all the personnel working with the mission were unharmed.
The blast — before Afghans go to the polls this Thursday — could also reinforce the Taliban's threat of violence to any Afghan who participates in the elections.
Afghanistan has braced for attacks because of the vote. International workers in the country were planning on working from home over the next week or had been encouraged to leave the country.
The blast rattled the capital and sent a black plume of smoke skyward. It was the first major attack in Kabul since February, when eight Taliban militants attacked three government buildings simultaneously, an assault that killed 20 people and the eight attackers.
A driver from the nearby Defence Ministry said he took at least 12 people to the hospital. Most were seriously wounded, said the driver.
Kabul has been relatively quiet over the last half year, though militants have launched a barrage of rockets into the capital this month, most of which landed harmlessly in open spaces.
Security has increased over the last several weeks in preparation for Thursday's vote.
First Published: Saturday, August 15, 2009, 15:11