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Kabul Blast Kills At Least 40

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Today in Kabul, Afghanistan, a powerful car bomb killed at least 41 people and wounded many more. It is reported to be the deadliest suicide car-bombing since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports, the attack happened on a street that was considered one of the safest in Kabul.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Afghan officials say the suicide bomber tried to drive his explosives-packed SUV into the Indian embassy compound. The large explosion demolished the front gates of the embassy, as well as shops in other buildings along the street. It also rattled windows across downtown, including at the NPR compound about a mile away.

Four Indian officials who were in two SUVs in front of the bomber were killed, including the defense attache. The Indian ambassador was not in the embassy at the time.

Also killed were dozens of Afghan civilians. Some of the victims were lining up to apply for visas. Others were simply walking past during morning rush hour, when the tree-lined street is most crowded. Eyewitness Heela Barakzai spoke to the BBC.

BLOCK: We could see a very huge black smoke going to the sky and a lot of people shouting, and everybody just started to come out of the cars and just run away from the incident, scared that maybe there is another one behind it or there might be another explosion.

SARHADDI NELSON: The victims were taken to several hospitals in the area, including one where NPR producer Najib Shadafee(ph) works part time. Shadafee, who is a doctor, says he saw one woman scream curses at President Hamid Karzai after learning that her son had died, one of the victims of the blast. Karzai, in a statement, condemned the bombing as an abominable act of terrorism.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack. Oftentimes, Taliban will not claim responsibility when many civilians are killed.

Afghan officials also did not assign blame, but as they often do, they suggested Pakistan was involved in some way. Pakistani officials offered no immediate comment about the attack. In the past, they have denied involvement in any violence in Afghanistan.

NATO and U.S. military officials say there have been increased numbers of militants crossing the Pakistani border into Afghanistan in recent months.

Today's bombing came as a surprise to many here in the capital, which has enjoyed relative quiet for months. There are questions about how the bomber managed to drive his vehicle onto the heavily guarded street, which is also where Afghanistan's police headquarters is located.

An interior ministry spokesman says part of the reason was that police had stopped searching every vehicle entering the area following residents' complaints that officers were hampering traffic. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.