44 killed as suicide bomber targets Indian mission in Kabul

July 7th, 2008 - 8:12 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Taliban Kabul/New Delhi, July 7 (IANS) Four Indians, including two diplomats and two security personnel, were among 44 killed when a suicide bomber driving a car rammed into the Indian embassy gate in Kabul, the worst terror act in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s fall and the first attack on any Indian mission in the world. It was 8.30 a.m. The embassy was just opening for work and dozens of visa seekers had queued up when the suicide bomber blew up the car laden with explosives at the entrance of the embassy, on a tree-lined street in central Kabul.

India identified its dead nationals as Defence Attache Brigadier R.D. Mehta and Press Counsellor V. Venkat Rao besides Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) constables Ajay Paulia and Roop Singh.

Rao, an Indian Foreign Service official, was earlier posted in Colombo as well as Nepal. Mehta had been commissioned in the army in 1976 and served in insurgency-hit Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast.

An Afghan employee of the embassy, Niamutullah, was also killed.

Mehta and Rao were about to enter the building when the car bomb exploded.

“Dozens of visa seekers and Afghan nationals located adjacent to the embassy have also been killed or injured in the attack,” said Indian Ambassador Jayant Prashad, adding that three other ITBP personnel and a local employee were among the critically injured.

“The Indian embassy has been fully mobilised and the remaining personnel are safe,” Prashad told IANS over the phone.

More than 100 people - overwhelmingly Afghans - were injured in the deafening blast. The victims were mostly civilians, including women and children, an Afghan official added.

Moments after the car exploded in a cloud of dust after failing to enter the heavily guarded mission, which is part of a large Soviet built concrete complex, ambulances and police vehicles blaring sirens rushed to the spot.

Many people fled the spot, screaming in terror. Others, including some of the injured, were too dazed to speak.

Hundreds of policemen and US and Afghan troops quickly reached the area and helped to take out the mangled bodies and rush the injured to hospitals.

An Indian embassy official said: “A large part of our building has been devastated.” Several parked cars were damaged. Windowpanes of nearby buildings were shattered.

The blast, for which the interior ministry blamed “terrorists” and “some secret agencies in the region”, was heard in most parts of Kabul. It triggered firing by panicky US troops on a car near the Iranian embassy, injuring at least one person.

Said Danish Karokhil, head of the independent Pajhwok agency whose offices are close to the Indian mission: “The target was the (Indian) diplomatic vehicles. They were trying to get inside the embassy when the suicide car bomber attacked them.

“There were many people killed and wounded. The police guards protecting the embassy were also hurt. I saw wounded and dead people everywhere on the road.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who Monday landed in Japan for the G8 meeting, said he was “horrified” by the incident. In a statement from on board Air India One, where he got the information about the attack, the prime minister said: “Those responsible directly or indirectly for this terrorist attack… are no better than the worst criminals.”

“We have lost Indians who were helping their Afghan brothers to rebuild their lives and country. That endavour must continue with renewed commitment,” the prime minister added soon after landing in the Japan town of Sapporo.

As Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee joined him in condemning the act as “dastardly”, an Indian official team led by Nalin Surie, secretary (west) in the ministry, left for Kabul “to assess the emergency situation”.

India, which has close ties with the Afghan government, vowed to continue assisting President Hamir Karzai’s administration to rebuild the war-torn country.

In a statement, Karzai said the terror attack was the “work of the enemies of Afghanistan-India friendship”.

Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta visited the Indian embassy after the attack and said: “India and Afghanistan have a deep relationship. Such attacks of the enemy will not harm our relations.”

Pakistan, sandwiched by the two countries, said it condemned “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”.

“This menace negates the very essence of human values,” said its Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

In recent years, Kabul has witnessed a series of bomb explosions and suicide attacks blamed on the Taliban.

More than 6,000 people were killed in violence in Afghanistan in 2007, nearly 2,000 of them civilians, according to official sources.

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