Dozens Killed, Hundreds Wounded in Kabul Car Bomb Attack

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An Afghan man reacts at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan May 31, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Update/ A powerful car bomb exploded in the center of Afghanistan's capital Wednesday killing at least 80 people and wounding hundreds more.

The bombing sent clouds of black smoke into the sky above the presidential palace and foreign embassies, officials said

Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for Kabul police, said several people were killed and wounded in the blast near the fortified entrance to the German embassy. 

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 BBC confirmed that BBC Afghan driver Mohammed Nazir, who had worked with the broadcaster for four years and had a young family, died in the blast. Four BBC journalists were also injured, said the BBC in a statement. 

Some Pakistani Embassy diplomats and staff suffered minor injuries, reported Pakistani media. 

The bomb, concealed in a water delivery truck, detonated at 8:22 a.m. (local time) outside the offices of a major local cellphone company and a popular TV station, reported CNN. 

"It was a car bomb near the German embassy, but there are several other important compounds and offices near there too. It is hard to say what the exact target is," Mujahid said.

The explosion shattered windows and blew doors off their hinges in houses hundreds of meters away.

The French and Chinese embassies were among those damaged, the two countries said, adding there were no immediate signs of injuries among diplomats.

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 Akhbar 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.

Another lightly wounded victim, Nabib Ahmad, 27, said there was widespread destruction and confusion.

"I couldn't think clearly, there was a mess everywhere," he said.

Later, another frenzy broke out outside the hospital as ambulances and police trucks began bringing in the bodies of those killed. Some bodies were burned or destroyed beyond recognition.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the blast.

"India stands with Afghanistan in fighting all types of terrorism. Forces supporting terrorism need to be defeated," he said in a tweet.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel confirmed the attack was in the "immediate vicinity" of its embassy.

"The attack was aimed at civilians and those who are in Afghanistan to work with the people there for a better future of the country," Gabriel said. "...officials of the German embassy were also injured. In the meantime, all employees are safe."

The embassy will remain closed until further notice. 

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. 

The Afghan Taliban denied responsibility for the attack. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement the movement's fighters had no involvement and said the movement condemned any such untargeted attacks that caused civilian casualties.

Violence around Afghanistan has been rising throughout the year, as the Taliban push to defeat the U.S.-backed government and reimpose Islamic law after their 2001 ouster in a Washington-backed invasion.

Since most international troops withdrew at the end of 2014, the Taliban have gained ground and now control or contest about 40 percent of the country, according to U.S. estimates, though President Ashraf Ghani's government holds all provincial centers.

U.S. President Donald Trump is due to decide soon on a recommendation to send 3,000 to 5,000 more troops to bolster the small NATO training force and U.S. counter-terrorism mission now totaling just over 10,000.

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, told a congressional hearing earlier this year that he needed several thousand more troops to help Afghan forces break a "stalemate" with the Taliban.

This story was updated to amend the death and casualties toll from the blast.