41 killed in Afghan blast caused by vehicle bombs

A policeman stands at the site after five car bombs detonated simultaneously in Afghanistan's largest southern city of Kandahar,Tuesday. AP

The thundering explosion in the Taliban's spiritual homeland occurred just after nightfall yesterday in a district that includes UN facilities and an Afghan intelligence office. The force of the blast shattered windows around the city and sent flames shooting into the sky.

So many houses and nearby buildings had collapsed that officials feared the death toll could rise further. At least 66 people were wounded, said Gen. Ghulam Ali Wahabat, a police commander in charge of southern Afghanistan.

"There was big smoke in the sky, and there were many dead bodies," said Mohammad Ismail, a vegetable seller being treated at the hospital for leg and hand injuries from the blast. "Some of the wounded were crying out."

It appeared the main target was the Japanese company that is involved in reconstruction efforts in the southern Afghan city. The company recently took over a contract to build a road that insurgents had stalled for several months.

An intelligence office is about 400 meters from the attack site and a UN office is located about 800 meters away.

"The staff is good, everybody is safe," said Samad Khaydarov, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. "Our office, our guesthouses, are safe... Unfortunately, security is not so good in Kandahar."

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

The blast in the center of the city was one of the largest since the Taliban were expelled from the country in 2001. It destroyed about 40 shops, including restaurants and bakeries.

The exact mechanism of the bombing was still being determined.

Provincial council member Haji Agha Lalai said five vehicles filled with explosives detonated together, causing the massive blast. But Shah said the vehicles used were an oil tanker filled with explosives and two car bombs.

In other violence, a bomb blast killed four US troops in southern Afghanistan yesterday, said military spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker. No other information was released pending the notification of family members.

The deaths bring to 41 the number of US troops killed in Afghanistan this month, the second deadliest month in the country since the 2001 US invasion. Last month a record 44 US troops died.

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