KABUL, Afghanistan — A sport utility vehicle packed with explosives detonated in an eastern Afghanistan market Tuesday, bringing down shops and leaving the bloodied remains of men, women and children in the rubble. By late afternoon, at least 89 people were known to have been killed, the Defense Ministry said.
The bombing, in Paktika province, was one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Afghanistan since 2001, and suspicion immediately fell on the Taliban or their Islamist militant allies. But the insurgents denied any involvement. The market was filled mainly with civilians, and had little strategic value to either side in the war here.
Afghan officials said the attack occurred in the Urgun district of Paktika, near a religious school in the bazaar.
The explosion devastated more than just the immediate surroundings. The Defense Ministry said the bomb went off at 10:30 a.m., one of the busiest times of the day for shopping during Ramadan, the holy month when observant Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. The blast reverberated through the narrow lanes of the bazaar, knocking down tightly packed mud-and-wood structures that housed all kinds of shops, from auto repair garages to vegetable stands.
“There was blood everywhere, and we could see hundreds of people shouting and crying, including women and children,” said Sharafuddin, 21, who owns a shop selling kitchenware. “I saw a woman dead, while her two kids were crying sitting next to her, and they were covered in blood,” he said in a phone interview. “The entire area seems like a graveyard with fresh blood on it.”
In the aftermath of the explosion, Afghan soldiers helped sift through rubble, while medics and ambulances evacuated the injured, said Maj. Gen. Zahir Azimi, the Defense Ministry spokesman. Clinics around the area reported being flooded with casualties.
The district where the attack occurred is in a mountainous and remote area near the Pakistan border. But the Taliban have tended to direct their biggest bombings toward major cities such as Kabul, the capital, where an attack on a restaurant killed 21 people in January, and a bombing at a Shiite shrine killed at least 63 people in December 2011.
Some officials and witnesses said the vehicle had been moving when its explosives were detonated, suggesting that it may have been on its way to a different target when it exploded. According to residents, the market struck Tuesday was not an obvious target for the insurgents — there are no government offices or significant police or army bases there, and forces from the U.S.-led coalition have little presence anywhere in Paktika province.
Though the bombing was one of the deadliest single episodes of the war, at least one misdirected NATO airstrike was responsible for a higher death toll. That airstrike, called in against a pair of fuel tankers in 2009, left more than 90 people dead. Most were thought to be civilians.
But Taliban attacks still account for the vast majority of total civilian deaths each year in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations. Most of those killed are people riding vehicles that strike roadside bombs hidden by the insurgents, or are bystanders caught in Taliban attacks and the gunbattles with security forces that ordinarily follow.
The Taliban insist that they do their best to avoid civilian casualties, aware that if they are to achieve their aim of again ruling Afghanistan, they are likely to need at least some popular support. But that has not stopped them from regularly executing attacks in crowded parts of major cities, where it would be hard to imagine not killing innocents.
On Tuesday, the Taliban simply blamed “the enemy” for the attack in Paktika, saying it was an attempt to smear the insurgents. The Taliban did not specify who the enemy being blamed might be.afghanistan - Asia - Kabul - Central Asia - Taliban - Afghanistan government