KABUL, Afghanistan — A rush-hour suicide bomb attack near a gate to Afghanistan’s presidential palace killed least 80 people and wounded more than 300 others early Wednesday, officials said.
The powerful explosion took place at a time when Kabul’s roads are packed with commuters.
A huge plume of smoke rose over the Afghan capital. Windows were shattered in shops, restaurants and other buildings up to a half-mile from the blast site.
The ministry of health confirmed the death toll. Authorities said most of the casualties were civilians.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish told NBC News that the blast occurred close to the presidential palace and the German Embassy.
Image: An Afghan man reacts at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan
The aftermath of the blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. OMAR SOBHANI / Reuters
The neighborhood is considered Kabul’s safest area, with foreign embassies protected by dozens of 10-foot-high blast walls and government offices, guarded by police and national security forces.
Afghanistan’s Foreign Ministry, the British, Canadian, Chinese, Turkish and Iranian embassies are also located in the area.
France’s European affairs minister told Europe 1 radio that the French Embassy had suffered “some material damage.”
German officials said they had no immediate information on possible casualties or damage to its diplomatic outpost.
Waheed Majroh, a spokesman for the Afghan health ministry, told NBC News that the injured included some foreign nationals working for a telecommunications firm.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast but both the Taliban and ISIS have staged large-scale attacks in the Afghan capital in the past.
Last month, the Afghan Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive, promising to build their political base in the country while focusing military assaults on the international coalition and Afghan security forces.
U.S. and Afghan forces have been battling the Taliban insurgency for more than 15 years. The United States now has more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations.