At least 41 dead, another 67 injured in Paktika province blast.
A suicide bomber driving a truck packed with explosives killed at least 41 people at a busy market in southeastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the deadliest attack in the war-torn country for months.
The huge blast in Urgun district of Paktika province came hours after a remotely controlled bomb targeted a presidential palace media staff bus in Kabul, killing two and wounding five. The explosion at Urgun also destroyed dozens of cars and shops, according to Hakimullah, a witness. “There is no room in the hospitals for the victims. People are treating the wounded people on the streets,” he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bombing “in the strongest possible terms.”
“The attack on civilians in Paktika during the holy month of Ramzan is a despicable criminal act, which killed and injured many innocent people, including children,” his spokesman said.
The blasts highlight the fragile security situation Afghanistan faces as NATO progressively withdraws its 50,000 remaining combat troops, leaving local forces to battle a resilient Taliban insurgency. Afghanistan is also in a delicate state politically, with the two rivals to succeed President Hamid Karzai only narrowly avoiding a crisis at the weekend over allegations of electoral fraud.
Karzai’s office said in a statement that 41 people, including six children and the imam of a mosque, were killed and 67 wounded in Paktika.
This makes it the deadliest attack in Afghanistan since a suicide bombing at a mosque in northern Faryab province in October 2012 that killed 42 people. The deadliest before that was a suicide blast at a shrine in Kabul on the Shia holy day of Ashura in December 2011 that killed 80.
There are fears that the death toll from Tuesday’s attack could rise—the spokesman for Paktika’s governor, Mokhlis Afghan, said 43 had died. Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the explosives were placed in a truck and detonated after police tried to stop the vehicle in the market.
Paktika borders Pakistan’s tribal areas including North Waziristan, where the Pakistani military is in the midst of a major offensive against militants. Hundreds of fighters are thought to have fled across the border into Afghanistan since the offensive started on June 15.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility and the Taliban denied they were behind the blast in a tweet from a recognized account. They regularly deny attacks that kill civilians.
The head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, condemned the attack and called for those responsible to be brought to justice.
As part of their annual spring offensive, the Taliban have increased attacks on foreign and Afghan security forces, but it is usually civilians who suffer the brunt of the casualties. A U.N. report last week said civilian casualties in Afghanistan soared by 24 percent to 4,853 in the first half of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.
Ground combat is now causing more deaths and injuries than improvised explosive devices in a worrying sign of spreading conflict, the U.N. report said, with women and children increasingly caught in the crossfire.