From the news desk

Kabul rocked by ‘Taliban’ explosion

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The Taliban have claimed responsibility for an explosion that rocked central Kabul early on Tuesday, leaving a thick plume of black smoke rising from the vicinity of the sprawling US embassy in the Afghan capital.

President Ashraf Ghani said a number of people were killed and wounded in the blast that apparently targeted the offices of Afghanistan’s main security agency.

An Afghan official says a possible suicide bomber carried out the attack. Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, said the explosion was followed by gunfire, and the area has been surrounded by security forces.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The powerful explosion came during the morning rush hour, a week after the Taliban announced the start of its annual spring offensive.

A Reuters witness near the scene also reported hearing gunfire more than half an hour after the blast. Kabul police also reported some gunfire immediately after the blast.

Several major Afghan security agencies are based in the area, including the national directorate of security. The ministry of defence and the presidential palace are also within a few hundred metres.

Warning sirens blared out from the US embassy compound, which is also close to the headquarters of the main Nato-led mission in Afghanistan. There was no indication of the source of the blast, but rocket attacks remain relatively common in the city.

The US embassy said it was not affected by the blast. The Nato military coalition also said it was unaffected.

The blast rattled windows several miles away and sent a plume of thick smoke rising in the sky.

The Presidential Palace said in a statement that it condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms”.

A spokesman for an emergency hospital in the city said the facility had received eight lightly wounded Afghan soldiers.

The Afghan Taliban last Tuesday announced the start of their so-called spring offensive, even as the government in Kabul seeks to bring the insurgents back to the negotiating table to end their drawn-out conflict.

The Taliban warned they would “employ large-scale attacks on enemy positions across the country” during the offensive, dubbed Operation Omari in honour of the movement’s late founder Mullah Omar, whose death was announced last year.

The annual spring offensive normally marks the start of the fighting season, though this winter the lull was shorter and the Taliban continued to battle government forces, albeit with less intensity.

[Source: The Guardian/Reuters/Agence France-Presse]
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