At least 20 people have been killed after a suspected suicide bomber killed himself outside the foreign ministry in Kabul in the second major attack in the Afghan capital this year, according to a Taliban official.
Ustad Fareedun, an official at the Taliban-run information ministry, told Reuters that the bomber had planned to enter the foreign ministry but failed. He added that at least 20 people were killed and many others injured in the blast.
A photo of the area, confirmed by official sources, showed at least nine people wounded or killed, lying outside the ministry as security forces attended to them.
Kabul police chief spokesman Khalid Zadran said security teams have been deployed to the site. He put the death toll at five. The blast hit about 4pm local time (11:30 GMT) on Wednesday, Zadran said.
Taliban foreign and interior ministry officials have yet to comment on the deadly explosion.
Obaidullah Baheer, a lecturer at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, said that the discrepancies in casualty figures are “troubling”.
“We have seen the Taliban do this before. It does not help the security of the city to deny numbers of the actual casualties. So, a lot of questions, little answers,” he told Al Jazeera.
Baheer added that the blast site is in a very high-security area. “There are multiple checkpoints. You have to have specific documents to access that street,” he said.
The blast reportedly happened when a Chinese delegation was meeting the Taliban at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“There was supposed to be a Chinese delegation at the foreign ministry today, but we don’t know if they were present at the time of the blast,” Deputy Minister of Information and Culture Muhajer Farahi told AFP.
A driver with the AFP team waiting outside the information ministry next door saw a man with a backpack and rifle slung over his shoulder walk past before the man blew himself up.
“He passed by my car and after a few seconds there was a loud blast,” Jamshed Karimi said.
“I saw the man blowing himself up.”
Some injured people writhed on the ground, screaming for help, and a handful of onlookers scrambled to offer assistance.
The foreign ministry itself did not appear to be badly damaged.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and several countries, including Pakistan, condemned the attack.
“Rising insecurity is of grave concern. Violence is not part of any solution to bring lasting peace to Afghanistan. Our condolences to the families affected,” UNAMA tweeted on Wednesday.
United States Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West offered his condolences to the victims.
“My sincere condolences to the families of the victims of the terrorist attack in Kabul today, have seen reports of at least 20 dead and many more injured. This violence serves no purpose,” he tweeted.
ISIL (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the deadly suicide blast, the armed group’s Amaq news agency said in an affiliated Telegram channel late on Wednesday.
The Taliban claims to have improved security since storming back to power in 2021, but there have been dozens of bomb blasts and attacks, many claimed by the local chapter of the ISIL group.
At least five Chinese nationals were wounded last month when armed men stormed a hotel popular with Chinese business people in Kabul.
That raid was claimed by ISIL, which also took responsibility for an attack on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul in December that Islamabad denounced as an “assassination attempt” against their ambassador.
Four people were killed and 25 wounded in an attack on a mosque on the grounds of the interior ministry in Kabul last October.
And two Russian embassy staff members were killed in a suicide bombing outside their mission in September in another attack claimed by the ISIL-affiliate ISKP (ISIS-K).
Hundreds of people, including members of Afghanistan’s minority communities, have been killed and wounded in other attacks since the Taliban regained power.
No country has formally recognised the administration of the Taliban, which took over Afghanistan in August 2021 with a speed and ease that took the world by surprise, after which President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and his government collapsed.