Afghans mourn, search for missing relatives one day after suicide bomb

<p>Afghans bury a victim of Wednesday's massive bombing in the capital, Kabul. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)</p>

RAHIM FAIEZ and AMIR SHAH
Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans mourned the loss of family members, friends and colleagues on Thursday, a day after bomb hidden in a tanker truck exploded in the capital, killing at least 90 people and wounding more than 450 in one of the worst extremist attacks since the drawdown of foreign forces in the country in 2014.

In Wednesday’s attack, the suicide bomber drove into Kabul’s heavily guarded diplomatic quarter during the morning rush, leaving behind chaos and destruction. Most of the casualties were civilians, including women and children, but the dead also included Afghan security guards working around the many embassies in the area.

The blast gouged a crater about 15 feet deep near Zanbaq Square in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, where foreign embassies are protected by their own security personnel as well as Afghan police and National Security Forces. The nearby German Embassy was heavily damaged.

Also in the area is Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry, the presidential palace and its intelligence and security headquarters, guarded by soldiers trained by the U.S. and its coalition partners.

The city’s acting mayor, Abdullah Habibzai, said the explosion was so strong that it damaged property as far as 2.5 miles from the blast site. He said an initial estimate put the total damage from the bombing at 1 billion Afghanis ($1.5 million), although that number could rise.

A city in mourning

Scores of people waited in hospitals to learn the status of their family members and friends wounded in the attack. Funeral processions took place throughout Kabul on Thursday.

Hundreds gathered in a Kabul cemetery for the funeral of Zemarai Khan, a security guard who lost his life in the attack.

Jan Mohammad, Zemarai’s brother, said Zemarai died alongside nine of his fellow guards who worked for a private security company.

Mohammad said he saw news of the bombing on TV and tried to call his brother, who never answered his phone. “From that moment I realized that my brother is dead,” he said.

He said transporting his brother’s body home was the hardest thing he’s ever done.  “No one can imagine the moment that seven children of my brother realized that their father is not alive anymore,” he said.

Meanwhile, some people were still missing and families were searching for news about loved ones in local hospitals.

Mohammad Sarwar stood crying behind the gate of an emergency hospital, looking for his nephew, who was missing. Sarwar said he had gone to all the hospitals in Kabul and still couldn’t find him after two days.

No culprit yet

There was no claim of responsibility for the bombing, which came in the first week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Taliban flatly denied any involvement in an email to news outlets and condemned all attacks against civilians.

Although they are small in number, militants from the Islamic State in Khorasan — an ancient name for parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia — have taken credit for several brazen assaults on the capital.

In neighboring Pakistan, President Mamnoon Hussain said Pakistanis were saddened by Wednesday’s attack. He said the people and the government of Pakistan will continue to support all efforts aimed at ensuring peace in Afghanistan.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have often traded accusations that each side harbors militants who stage attacks in the other country.

Also Thursday, Omar Zakhilwal, the Afghan ambassador to Islamabad, vowed in a tweet that the “heinous and cowardly crime will fail to break the spirit and morale of our nation.” He noted the attack took place during Ramadan.

“A day of fasting, worship and joy was turned into a bloody day of mourning,” he said.

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