JALALABAD: Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, detonating an explosives-packed car and killing nine civilians, including seven children in a nearby mosque.
A spokesman for the Taliban militant group immediately denied responsibility for the blast that erupted outside the Indian mission and left the mosque, private houses, tailors and other shops in ruins.
“A car containing explosives hit a barrier near the consulate and detonated,” Ahmadzia Abdulzai, spokesman for Nangarhar province, of which Jalalabad is the capital, told AFP. “There were three suicide bombers in the car.”
Nangarhar police chief Sharif Amin said that the consulate was the intended target of the attack, which created a large crater in the road as survivors wearing blood-stained clothing ran for cover.
“Among the civilians killed were seven children inside the mosque,” Amin said.
The interior ministry condemned the bombing as “heinous” and said nine people had died in total, with 21 other civilians wounded.
Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for the Indian foreign ministry in New Delhi, said that no officials were injured in the attack – the first major strike in Afghanistan during the holy month of Ramazan that started on July 10.
India condemns suicide raid
India strongly condemned a deadly suicide bomb assault, vowing the raid would not stop it from helping rebuild the war-torn nation.
The suicide attacks “must be condemned in the strongest possible terms”, India’s foreign ministry said in a statement, adding they were a reminder of the threat posed to Afghanistan by “terrorism”.
“This attack has once again highlighted (that) the main threat to Afghanistan's security and stability stems from terrorism and the terror machine that continues to operate from beyond its borders,” the ministry said.
“India will not be deterred from its commitment to assist Afghanistan in its reconstruction and development effort,” the ministry said. Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for the Indian foreign ministry in New Delhi, said all Indian officials were safe after the attack.
“This was clearly an attack not just against India but an attack against the efforts to help the Afghan people overcome the tragic hardships they have endured due to several decades of war,” he said.
India, which has spent more than $2 billion in aid in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime collapsed in 2001, has been targeted several times in the country.
In 2008, a car bomb at the Indian embassy in Kabul killed 60 people and the embassy was again hit by a suicide strike in 2009. In 2010, two guesthouses in Kabul used by Indians were attacked.
Taliban deny responsibility
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP that their fighters were not involved in Saturday’s strike. “We do not claim the responsibility for this attack,” he said.
The hardline Taliban have led a 12-year insurgency against the Afghan government since being overthrown in a US-led invasion for harbouring al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2001.
But Afghanistan is beset by a myriad of armed groups ranging from Islamist rebels to criminal gangs and militias formed during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and the 1992-1996 civil war.
The Haqqani network was blamed for earlier attacks on Indian targets in Afghanistan.
Jalalabad city is situated on the key route from the Pakistani border region to Kabul, and it has been the location of repeated assaults in recent years.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) compound in the city was hit on May 29, with the Taliban rebels also denying any involvement.
One Afghan guard died in that attack, which triggered widespread outrage as the ICRC is one of the most respected aid groups in Afghanistan and has remained strictly neutral during the war.
In March, seven suicide bombers attacked a police base in Jalalabad, killing five officers. The previous month, a bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into the gates of the National Directorate of Security spy agency and detonated bombs, killing two intelligence workers.
Nangarhar province has seen heavy fighting over recent days with more than 20 Afghan policemen and dozens of Taliban insurgents killed when hundreds of fighters ambushed a police and military convoy on Friday.
Pakistan condemns attack
In a statement issued Saturday, Pakistan also strongly condemned the suicide attack in Jalalabad, and extend condolences to the bereaved families.
“Terrorism is the common enemy that countries in the region face. Collective endeavors would help effectively combat this scourge,” said the statement by the foreign office.
“The Consulate General of Pakistan in Jalalabad is located in the same vicinity. The Consulate staff and other Pakistanis are reported safe. The Consul General is in touch with the local authorities,” it said.