By KATHY GANNON and AMIR SHAH
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban suicide bomber killed 24 people in a horrific early morning assault in a neighborhood where prominent politicians reside, causing residents and analysts to question the government’s ability to protect Afghanistan’s capital.
Another 42 people were injured in the attack that took place during morning rush hour as government employees and students made their way to work and school. Plumes of black smoke were seen billowing skyward outside the entrance to a private high school. Students in nearby dormitories were injured by flying glass.
Several cars were destroyed and small shops that lined the busy street were decimated and many of the occupants within killed.
The suicide bomber had rammed his explosive laden car into a minibus carrying employees of the mines and petroleum ministry, said Kabul police chief spokesman Basir Mujahed.
In a statement to the media the Taliban took responsibility for the bombing saying the target was the employees of the intelligence services. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said insurgents had spent the last two months in Kabul shadowing intelligence services employees before striking early Monday.
Analysts said widespread corruption, rife within the government and the security forces, makes keeping Kabul safe a difficult job.
“You can bring any amount of explosives into the city if you have money. Corruption is the big problem,” Kabul-based security analyst Waheed Muzhda told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “Any group, even a small group, can bring weapons, ammunition to anywhere in the city.”
Last year Afghanistan was ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries according to Transparency International.
The western Kabul neighborhood where the attack occurred is home to many prominent political leaders, such as Hazara leader Mohammad Mohaqiq. It has also been the site of several previous attacks, including the suicide attack last month that killed prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Ramazan Hussainzada, who was also a senior leader of the ethnic Hazara community.
Amir Helam, whose friend died in the explosion, told Afghanistan’s Tolo TV that “every day people are dying.” Addressing the government Helam said: “If you cannot bring peace then please leave and bring other people.” And to the insurgents, he said: “If you are the Taliban opposition please come and talk with the government. It is enough, stop killing the people.”
Kabul has been battered by explosions claimed by the Taliban and by the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan. On May 31, the Afghan capital saw its worst suicide attack since the Taliban’s collapse in 2001 — an attack that killed 150 people and wounded scores.
In a statement the Interior Ministry called Monday’s attack “a criminal act against humanity.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said police were working around the clock to keep the capital secure, however he said intelligence to thwart attacks also required the public’s cooperation. Residents have to help the security forces, he said.
A second security analyst, who also served as governor of Kunar and Herat, Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi said a growing mistrust of the government by many Afghans has helped insurgents.
“The police are corrupt, the security people are corrupt and the people are against the government, all this together makes it easy for the Taliban,” said Wahidi.
The Taliban said the attack was carried out by an insurgent identified only as Ahmad and the target of the bombing was the intelligence services and their employees. Taliban spokesman Mujahid claimed the bus was filled with employees of the intelligence services saying 37 people were killed, but the Taliban often exaggerate their battlefield gains and death tolls.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the bombing.
“Once again, these terrorist are attacking civilians and targeting government staff,” Ghani said in a statement.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also strongly condemned “the horrifying bomb attack” in Kabul claimed by the Taliban saying “the deliberate targeting of civilians constitutes a grave violation of human rights and international humanitarian law and may constitute a war crime,” according to U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.
Neighboring Pakistan issued a statement condemning the attack and saying that “terrorism is a common enemy.”
Pakistan has been bitterly criticized by both the United States and the Afghan government for providing safe havens to Taliban insurgents, a charge it strongly denies. Both countries routinely accuse the other of harboring their enemy insurgents.
Noorullah, who uses just one name, was in his dormitory at a nearby university when the explosion occurred. He says he saw “so many injured people and cars burning.” Noorullah sustained minor wounds from flying glass.
“The sound was very strong, the ground shook,” said Mohammed Nader, who owns a convenience store in the neighborhood.
The Taliban have stepped up their attacks against both Afghan forces and civilians since U.S. and other NATO-led foreign combat troops pulled out of the country at the end of 2014, leaving only an advisory and training contingent of international forces. In addition, American troops in Afghanistan have a counterterrorism role.
The insurgents have also steadily expanded their reach across the country, staging offensives targeting entire towns and expanding their footprint.
The Afghan military and security forces, with 195,000 soldiers and more than 150,000 policemen, have struggled to contain the insurgency on their own.