A suicide bomber targeting the Indian embassy in Kabul has killed 41 people and injured 141 others in the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since the fall of the Taliban.
The devastating blast, in a supposedly secure diplomatic enclave, raised tensions in the region with Afghan officials privately blaming Pakistan and the Interior Ministry publicly accusing a "foreign intelligence service" of being involved.
Yesterday's carnage came during an upsurge of violence which has raised the death toll among foreign troops to the highest since the US and British invasion of 2001, with 11 British soldiers killed in less than two weeks. Hundreds of Afghans, civilians and soldiers, have also become casualties in the violence of the past six months.
The bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a convoy of vehicles as it was entering the Indian legation. The explosion killed an Indian defence attaché, a senior diplomat and four guards while six others died in the nearby Indonesian embassy. The vast majority of the casualties, however, were among Afghan civilians queuing for visas as well as people in nearby shops and businesses.
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, who himself survived an assassination attempt two months ago, said that "outsiders" wanted to "damage good relations between Afghanistan and India" which is engaged in extensive aid projects in the country. The Afghan Foreign Minister, Rangeen Dadfur Spanta, who visited the embassy shortly after the blast, also spoke of attempts to destabilise relations between the two countries. Bombings aimed at foreign diplomats are rare in Afghanistan. Such attacks became widespread in Iraq at the start of the insurgency and led to many countries shutting down their diplomatic missions in Baghdad. The British embassy in Kabul, along with others, has been placed on a heightened state of alert but the Foreign Office said there were no plans to withdraw any staff.
Suicide bombings, previously almost unknown in Afghanistan, have become more and more widespread with foreigners being increasingly targeted. A high-profile attack on the five- star Serena Hotel, which has a predominantly international clientele, in January, resulted in six people being killed.
The US condemned "needless acts of violence" and the European Union described the attack as "terrorism targeting innocent civilians". The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said it "condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations".
In Delhi the Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said a high-level delegation was on its way to Kabul. The military attaché was named as Brigadier R Mehta and the diplomat as V Venkat Rao, both of whom had extensive experience of serving in Afghanistan. The Indian ambassador and his deputy were not in the legation when the bombing took place.
Haroun Mir, a political analyst who had formerly served as an adviser to the defence ministry, said "the finger is definitely being pointed at ISI [InterServices Intelligence], the Pakistani secret service. The past attacks on the Serena and President Karzai have the imprint of al-Qa'ida and they could not function without having the support of rogue elements inside the Pakistani government."
The injured were taken to Kabul's general hospital. A woman, who had lost her son and daughter, Mirwais and Lima, in the attack, sat in the corridor weeping, "Oh my God, oh my God, they have killed my children." Abdullah Ali, whose brother Rahimtullah was hit by flying glass, said: "He was covered in blood, the doctors say he may lose an eye. It is very sad, he was trying to get a visa for his son who is very ill, and needed medical treatment in India."
Khan Zaman, who was also in the queue for a visa, said: "We were standing in lines, the police told the men to stand on one side and the women in another. Then suddenly I heard a huge bang and I sat down, I was very afraid." Ghulam Dastagir, a wounded shopkeeper, said: "Several other shopkeepers have died."
A Taliban spokesman, Zabibullah Mujahid, later denied that its militants were responsible for the embassy car bomb.