A victim's shoe lies on the ground as Afghan police secure the site… (Shah Marai / Agence France-Presse/Getty…)
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A suicide bomber detonated his vehicle in front of the Supreme Court in the Afghan capital on Tuesday, several hundred yards from the U.S. Embassy, killing 17 people and wounding 38, police said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility in a statement sent to reporters, adding that the bomber, whom it identified as an engineer named Abdul Wajid, detonated his explosives-packed Toyota Corolla in front of the “so-called Supreme Court of the Kabul government.”
The dead and wounded were all civilians and included court employees, women and children, said Gen. Mohammad Daud Amin, Kabul’s deputy police chief.
At the scene, mangled buses and cars sat in disfigured heaps, the windows of nearby apartments shattered, the ground littered with blood and body parts. For over an hour, ambulances ferried the wounded to hospitals and the dead to morgues as stunned onlookers gazed at the carnage.
The blast occurred about 4 p.m. just as many government employees were leaving work. Gen. Mohammad Zahir, head of Kabul's crime and investigation, said the bomber appeared to target vehicles filled with Supreme Court employees heading home.
The high-profile attack is the second in Kabul in as many days as the Taliban attempts to show it can strike at will at the administrative and political heart of the country.
On Monday, seven insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and suicide vests took over a construction site on the periphery of the Kabul international airport’s military facilities before they blew themselves up or were killed by Afghan security forces.
The seven militants in Monday’s attack detonated an explosives-laden vehicle but failed to breach the airport or a nearby NATO headquarters that oversees day-to-day operations in the nearly 12-year war. The Taliban also took responsibility for that attack, which wounded two civilians.
In its statement, the Taliban said Tuesday’s car bomb killed 50 judges and employees who were riding in four buses and six cars and wounded tens of people. The group often exaggerates the deaths and damage it inflicts, sometimes taking responsibility for operations it didn’t carry out, analysts said.
Tuesday’s bombing follows a series of Taliban strikes across the country in recent weeks. The group vowed at the start of the so-called spring offensive, when fighting picks up after the harsh Afghan winter, to redouble attacks on foreign troops, the United Nations and Afghans assisting the international coalition.
Insurgents have targeted Kabul aggressively in recent days for several reasons, analysts said.
Attacks on Kabul are made possible by administrative weaknesses within the Afghan government and its limited ability to forecast enemy attacks, analysts added.
"The Afghan intelligence department is very weak and corrupt, while Afghan leaders only think about how to fill their pockets," said Jawed Kohistani, a Kabul based military analyst.
Afghan security forces’ ability to respond and foil attacks is being watched closely as they assume greater responsibility for the country’s security in advance of the withdrawal of international combat troops by the end of 2014.
Analysts said they expect insurgents to continue attacking targets across the country in a bid to disrupt preparations for next year’s national election, weaken the administration of President Hamid Karzai and intimidate rival groups seeking political power
Kohistani also suggested that militants backed by Pakistan might be striking at Kabul on behalf of their patrons.
Karzai has angered the Pakistani government by publicly charging that it lets militants use its territory as a haven to launch attacks against Afghanistan and for otherwise supporting the insurgency. Pakistan also is upset at Kabul for strengthening ties with India and asking New Delhi for military aid.
Pakistan has repeatedly denied backing militants operating in Afghanistan or otherwise meddling in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, arguing that Pakistan is itself the biggest victim of terrorism.
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Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul and Times staff writer Magnier from New Delhi.