A suicide bombing in a busy commercial area in Kabul near a string of banks and not far from the U.S. Embassy killed at least five people on Tuesday, Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Elsewhere, at least 13 civilians were killed in an overnight airstrike by the Afghan air force that targeted the Taliban in western Herat province.
In the Kabul attack, the explosion likely targeted a branch of the privately owned Kabul Bank, according to Basir Mujahid, spokesman for the Kabul police chief. The U.S. Embassy compound is about 500 metres down the road from the bank.
At the site of the blast, debris and twisted metal lay scattered on the pavement. The front side of the bank was shattered and the fronts of several adjacent businesses were badly damaged. A charred motorcycle with its parts mangled lay on the street.
Along with the five killed, the attack wounded nine, said Mohammad Salim Rasouli, chief of Kabul hospitals at the Health Ministry. He warned that those were only initial reports and the casualty toll could rise.
The bomber had walked up to the bank and was about to go through the security check and enter the bank, an Afghan official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. Apparently realizing he would not pass the body check, he detonated his explosives vest just outside the door, the official added.
Sayed Jan, a government employee who was waiting in line with colleagues to get his salary, said he didn't realize immediately what was happening.
"When I came out [of the bank], I suddenly saw police opening fire. I was confused about what was happening," he said. "I saw my friends running away."
Two of his friends were among the nine wounded in the attack, he added.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, posted the insurgents' claim of responsibility on his twitter account, saying that a Taliban suicide bomber targeted military personnel who had gathered at the Kabul Bank to collect their salaries ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice).
Uptick in violence feared for Muslim holidays
The Taliban often target banks, especially at the end of the month when civil servants and military personnel line up to receive their salaries, or ahead of major Muslim holidays.
This week, the Kabul banks have been especially crowded as Muslims prepare for Eid al-Adha. It's the most important Islamic holiday that commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim — also known as Abraham to Christians and Jews — to sacrifice his son before God stayed his hand.
During the holiday, Muslims slaughter livestock, distributing part of the meat to the poor. The holiday begins on the 10th day of the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, during the hajj (the Muslim pilgrimage).
Two months ago, ahead of the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday, a Taliban suicide bomber targeted a Kabul Bank branch in southern Helmand province, killing at least 29 people, mostly civilians. At the time, the Taliban claimed there were no civilian deaths and said they had only targeted members of the Afghan security forces who had gone to the bank to collect their salaries.
Kabul has also seen a sharp increase in attacks lately.
Last week, 28 people, including women and children, were killed when Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants attacked a Shia mosque during Friday prayers. In that attack, which went on for hours, more than 50 people were also wounded after two assailants blew themselves up. Another two attackers were shot dead by Afghan security forces.
In the Herat airstrike, the at least 13 civilians killed included women and children as Afghan security forces targeted the Taliban in western province, according to Gelani Farhad, spokesperson for the provincial governor.
Farhad told The Associated Press that the Monday night strike in Shindand district also wounded seven civilians. A Taliban base and a prison run by the insurgents were targeted, he said. The prison was destroyed and 19 prisoners, both military and civilians, escaped. The civilians who were killed died in their homes just next to the Taliban base, he added.
According to the Farhad, the airstrikes also killed 16 Taliban militants. The Taliban have not commented on the Herat attack, and Farhad's information could not be independently verified.