AFP, December 15, 2009
Suicide attack near Kabul hotel kills eight
"Eight people have been killed. Four are women. Four others are male and 40 other people have been wounded. It was a suicide bombing"
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 mostly on Taliban militants and coincided with a conference on corruption being hosted by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
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.
The blast set off a fire, partially gutting villas and shattering windows in the heavily fortified neighbourhood, which is home to Western embassies and aid groups as well as Afghan government officials.
"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 shattered windows at the Heetal hotel and Massoud's home, where people carried out a dead bodyguard in a blanket as a woman with blood smeared across her face staggered to safety, AFP reporters said.
Twisted metal and collapsed masonry littered the street under a cloud of acrid black smoke from about 10 vehicles engulfed in flames, witnesses 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. He did not disclose the nationality.
The Heetal hotel itself protected by two entrance gates and high walls and villas in the area are generally in high-security compounds with walls, barbed wire and often private security guards.
Harjeet Singh, general manager of IT company IO Global Services, told AFP that 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.
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 "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 of Massoud's bodyguards were killed.
It was not immediately clear if the bomber's target was the former vice president, the hotel or the guest house.
A spokesman for the Taliban told AFP after the attack he had no immediate information on who was responsible.
It was the first major bombing in Kabul since Karzai was sworn into power for a second time following a controversial election.
On October 28, the Taliban claimed a gun and suicide attack on another guest house used by the United Nations, killing five UN staff.
The Indian embassy in Kabul has been bombed twice and an attack last year that killed 60 people remains the deadliest attack on the Afghan capital.
"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.
At the start of the three-day anti-corruption conference, Karzai warned that reform would take years and defended a mayor convicted of wasting money.
"I am a realist. I know that corruption in our government and society cannot be eliminated overnight. We cannot even eliminate it in years," he said.
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.
The Islamist insurgency is at its deadliest since US-led troops ousted the Taliban regime in 2001, killing nearly 500 foreign soldiers so far this year. A US soldier was killed southern Afghanistan on Tuesday.
In the eastern province of Paktya, a bomb planted in a box exploded Tuesday killing five people, including a woman and a Nepalese man, outside the offices of an aid group, said the interior ministry spokesman Bashary.
Characters Count: 5504