A powerful bomb hidden in a sewage tanker has exploded in the morning rush hour in the centre of the Afghan capital, killing at least 80 people, wounding hundreds and damaging embassy buildings.
The bomb, one of the deadliest in Kabul and coming at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, exploded close to the fortified entrance to the German embassy, killing a security guard and wounding some staff, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Twitter.
Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for city police, said the explosives were hidden in a sewage tanker but suggested that the German Embassy might not have been the target of the blast which sent clouds of black smoke into the sky near the presidential palace.
“There are several other important compounds and offices near there too,” he told Reuters.
The blast, which shattered windows and blew doors off their hinges in houses hundreds of metres away, was unusually strong.
The NATO-led Resolute Support (RS) mission in Kabul said Afghan security forces had prevented the vehicle from entering the heavily protected Green Zone that houses many foreign embassies as well as its headquarters, suggesting it may not have reached its intended target.
A public health official said at least 80 people had been killed and more than 350 wounded. The victims appear mainly to have been Afghan civilians.
The French, Turkish and Chinese embassies were among those damaged, the three countries said, adding there were no immediate signs of injuries among their diplomats. The BBC said one of its drivers, an Afghan, was killed driving journalists to work. Four journalists were wounded and treated in hospital.
The Australian embassy was put into lockdown but a Defence Department spokesman said all Australian personnel deployed to Afghanistan had been accounted for.
Video shot at the scene showed burning debris, crumbled walls and buildings and destroyed cars, many with dead or injured people inside.
At the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital a few blocks away, there were scenes of chaos as ambulances brought in wounded and frantic relatives scanned casualty lists and questioned hospital staff for news.
“It felt like an earthquake,” said 21-year-old Mohammad Hassan, describing the moment the blast struck the bank where he was working. His head wound had been bandaged but blood still soaked his white dress shirt.
The Taliban denied responsibility and said they condemned attacks that have no legitimate target and killed civilians.