Kabul: At least 50 children were among more than 100 people wounded Monday when the Taliban detonated a powerful car bomb in Kabul, officials said, the latest deadly attack in one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a child.
Save the Children led international condemnation of the blast targeting a defence ministry building, which sent a plume of smoke into the air during rush hour and shook buildings nearly two kilometres away.
It was followed by gunmen storming a nearby building and triggering a gun battle with special forces in the Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of the Afghan capital.
Officials said all five attackers have been killed and a clearing operation is ongoing.
At least three people have been killed, including one child, and 116 wounded, according to the health ministry, though that figure is expected to change once the clearing operation has been completed.
Among the wounded were 50 children, the education ministry said in a statement, adding that most had been hurt by flying glass and were in stable condition.
Some social media images purportedly taken at a hospital showed wounded, stunned children in school uniforms, still clutching books as they arrived for treatment.
In its statement, the education ministry said five schools had been partially damaged, and asked "all sides involved in fighting to guarantee the safety of students, teachers, education workers and schools".
Such an attack was "utterly deplorable", Save the Children said in a statement, warning that "Children's smaller bodies sustain more serious injuries than adults" and that the trauma of such attacks can stay with them for years to come.
The Taliban claimed the attack, which came just two days after the insurgents began a seventh round of talks with the US in Qatar as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan's September presidential election.
"We were sitting inside the office when the world turned upside down on us," said Zaher Usman, an employee at a branch of the culture ministry, which he said stands just 150 metres from the blast.
"When I opened my eyes, the office was filled with smoke and dust and everything was broken, my colleagues were screaming," Usman told AFP by telephone.
AFP reporters could hear gunshots and multiple smaller explosions for hours after the initial blast, before the clearing operation was announced. The interior ministry said 210 civilians had been rescued from buildings nearby.
Shams Amini, a spokesman for the Afghan Football Federation, told AFP that the blast occurred near their HQ gates, and said some colleagues had been injured.
Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices.
"I was terrified," Shamshad anchor Hashmat Stanikzai said.
A media watchdog said seven Shamshad journalists were among the wounded.
The attack came as the US was set to begin a third day of negotiations with the militants in Doha.
With the attack still ongoing, the Taliban spokesman in Doha again insisted that the insurgents will not negotiate with Kabul.
"Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government," Suhail Shaheen tweeted.
A potential deal would see the US agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among Afghans who fear Washington will rush for the exits and allow the militants to return to some semblance of power.
In return, the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremism, as happened with Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
However, US officials have insisted that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", including intra-Afghan talks.