Truck bomb kills 36 in Afghan city

KANDAHAR: A massive bomb ripped through the downtown area of the troubled Afghan city of Kandahar Tuesday, killing up to 36 people and wounding dozens near hotels and government offices, officials said.

The truck bomb ripped through 10 residential buildings, trapping casualties under the rubble as rescue workers frantically tried to dig them out of the debris under the cover of darkness, officials said.

"So far we have 36 killed and 64 wounded and they are all civilians," said General Ghulam Ali Wahdad, police commander for southern Afghanistan, adding that it was impossible to give a breakdown on the identity of the victims.

"Police are still busy trying to find bodies from under the rubble," Wahdad told AFP by telephone.

The deaths of 36 people would make it the deadliest explosion in Afghanistan since a suicide car bomber killed more than 60 people, including two senior diplomats, in an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008.

Kandahar is the biggest city in southern Afghanistan, where Taliban insurgents fighting the Western-backed government have strongholds.

"It felt like an earthquake. The power went off and there was a huge explosion," said Agha Lalai, a member of the Kandahar provincial council.

The bomb went off near a guest house frequented by foreigners, near the Kandahar provincial intelligence headquarters and less than a kilometre from the home of Ahmad Wali Karzai, brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Wali Karzai, the controversial younger sibling of the president -- who was declared narrowly in the lead Tuesday in a neck-and-neck race to win a second term following landmark elections last week -- said it was a truck bomb.

"It was either a tanker or a truck bomb and the target was a Japanese construction company which is working on road construction," Wali Karzai, who is head of the Kandahar provincial council, told reporters.

"The Japanese were not there but Afghan and Pakistani workers may have been in the building. Doors and windows have blown out and glass broken up to one kilometre (half a mile) diameter and has caused heavy casualties," he said.

Deputy Kandahar police chief Fazel Ahmad Shairzad said: "It was a truck bomb which has caused all these casualties and damage. At this stage we don't know what was the target of the blast. We are investigating."

A senior police official said it was a suicide car bomb.

Residents in the southern city said they heard a huge explosion in a normally bustling street and close to a large complex with a wedding hall, which one police official said was on fire, shops and hotel rooms.

Afghanistan, like the rest of the Muslim world is observing the holy month of Ramadan with fasting from dawn to dusk, when people generally go home to eat and so the district was less populated than normal.

The interior ministry in Kabul told AFP that dozens of people were killed and wounded when explosives ripped through a vehicle. A spokesman put the death toll at more than 10 and the number of wounded at more than 50.

"It was in the middle of the city. More than 10 houses are destroyed and most of the casualties originated from those destroyed civilian homes," said spokesman Zemarai Bashary.

"It was a car explosion. We don't know if it was a suicide bombing because it was dark and the car has been totally destroyed. All the casualties up to now are civilians," Bashary added.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast but the ministry spokesman blamed the attack on Taliban-linked insurgents.

Kandahar was the powerbase of the former Taliban regime, which was ousted from power in Afghanistan by the 2001 US-led invasion and replaced with a Western-backed administration.

The Taliban have struck repeatedly in recent weeks during what was a bloody countdown to nationwide elections last week, which marked only the second time that war-weary Afghans have voted for a president in their history.