A suicide bomber struck an upmarket district of the Afghan capital Kabul on Tuesday near a hotel and guest house frequented by foreigners, killing eight people and wounding another 40, officials said.
It was the latest in a string of attacks in Kabul blamed on the Taliban and came as President Hamid Karzai convened a flagship conference on corruption in another part of the city.
The attacker blew himself up outside the gate of the Heetal hotel in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, near a guest house and the home of Afghanistan's former first vice president, Ahmad Zia Massoud.
“All the doors of the taxi were blown open by the force of the blast and the car turned full circle because the force of the blast was so big,” said witness Nanghirlay, 25, who was travelling two blocks away when the bomber struck.
The explosion partially brought down villas, engulfed a vehicle in flames, gouged out a large crater in the street where a woman staggered out with blood smeared across her face and a guard lay dead, AFP reporters said.
“Eight people have been killed. Four are women. Four others are male and 40 other people have been wounded. It was a suicide bombing,” interior ministry spokesman Zamarai Bashary told AFP.
Men, women and children were among the wounded, officials said.
A foreigner was also killed, one government official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release the information.
Harjeet Singh, general manager of IT company IO Global Services, told AFP 40 Indians were staying in the guest house, including 20 from his company.
Five were wounded, including two IT workers, a cleaner, a cook and a guard, who were all Indians, he told AFP at the bomb site dressed in a red turban.
“We normally leave at 8:15 to 8:30 to go to our office. The injured are those staying at the guest house, they are all Indians,” he said.
India is a huge investor in post-Taliban Afghanistan, where Indian films and music are hugely popular among certain groups.
Karzai strongly condemned the “terrorist attack” as “brutal, inhuman and un-Islamic” and ordered a swift investigation to hunt down the masterminds.
He told the anti-corruption conference, attended by the US ambassador, that two bodyguards of his former vice president were killed in the explosion.
It was not immediately clear if the bomber's target was the former vice president, the hotel or the guest house used by foreigners.
On October 28, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a gun and suicide attack on another guest house in a neighbouring district used by the United Nations, killing five UN staff.
The Indian embassy in Kabul has been bombed twice and the attack last year killing 60 people remains the deadliest attack on the Afghan capital.
The upmarket district of Wazir Akbar Khan is home to many foreign embassies and aid groups, as well as Afghan government officials.
“One of our guards was killed. The explosion happened down the road, close to our hotel. Not in our hotel,” said Heetal finance manager Bejan Salehi.
The bomber struck shortly before 10:00 am (0630 GMT) as lawmakers, government officials and foreign ambassadors gathered for the conference on efforts to crack down on endemic corruption in Afghanistan.
Karzai, under pressure to form a transparent government after his August re-election was tainted by fraud, is trying to stitch together a cabinet accepted at home and abroad in a bid to end months of political paralysis.
Washington has warned Karzai to fight corruption or see his cabinet bypassed in favour of lower level officials in an effort to provide services as part of a new US war plan deploying 30,000 extra American troops to fight the Taliban.
Tuesday's conference was expected to discuss the creation of a special anti-corruption commission, courts and law enforcement bodies.
Kabul has been rocked by a rising number of suicide and rocket attacks with the Taliban-led insurgency at its deadliest in the eight years since US-led troops ousted the Islamist militia's regime.
In the eastern province of Paktya, a mine exploded Tuesday killing five people including a woman outside the offices of a private security company, provincial police chief Azizudin Wardak told AFP. AGENCIES