Suicide blast hits Kabul airport road amid surge in violence
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A car bomb exploded near the entrance to Kabul airport on Monday, killing at least five people and wounding 16, days after a series of suicide attacks in the Afghan capital killed dozens of civilians and wounded hundreds more.
The wave of bombings in Kabul and provincial centres follows a change of leadership in the Afghan Taliban, after the recent revelation of the death of their founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and a dispute over the leadership of the insurgency.
The attacks have dashed any hope of an immediate resumption of peace talks with the government, and suggest new Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour intends to send a message that there will be no let up in the insurgency.
“These attacks demonstrate an extreme level of atrocity by terrorists against innocent and defenseless civilians,” the interior ministry said in a statement.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for Monday’s suicide attack in a crowded area outside an airport checkpoint, saying it was targeting “foreign forces”.
A security official at the scene said the attack appeared to have been aimed at two armoured cars, although it was not clear who was in the vehicles.
Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said five people had died and 16 were wounded. A woman and a child were among the injured, public health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the occupants of the two targeted vehicles were foreigners and had all been killed. He denied that any Afghan civilians died in the attack.
The heavily fortified Afghan capital was already on high alert following last week’s attacks, which killed at least 50 civilians and security forces personnel in what the United Nations said was the worst day of violence since 2009.
President Ashraf Ghani condemned Monday’s attacks, saying the Taliban was still running bomb-making factories and suicide training centres in neighbouring Pakistan, and urging Islamabad to cut them off.
But Ghani did not entirely shut the door on resuming dialogue with the Taliban if it stopped the violence.
“We will make peace with those who know about humanity, Islam and the meaning of Afghanistan and do not destroy their country for the interests of outsiders,” he told reporters.
Conflict between the Western-backed government and the Taliban has intensified this year, with civilians and Afghan security forces taking the brunt after the NATO combat mission ended last year.
Last Friday, a truck bomb killed at least 15 people and wounded 248 in Kabul. That evening, suicide attacks on a police academy and a base used by U.S. special forces killed more than 30 police and security contractors, besides an American soldier.
Ghani’s coalition government, weakened by infighting, has struggled to respond to the crisis, which has been further complicated by uncertainty around the Taliban leadership.
Mansour’s swift appointment by a small council of leaders in the Pakistani city of Quetta has caused rifts within the movement and fed speculation that the latest violence is linked to the leadership dispute.
Several senior figures in the insurgent movement, which wants to re-establish a hard-line Islamist regime toppled by U.S.-led military intervention in 2001, have sought a new council to decide the issue.