Deadly suicide attack targets Kabul military hospital

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but a Taliban spokesperson blamed the group's hardline rivals, the Islamic State.

Taliban fighters sit along the roadside near Sardar Mohammad Dawood Khan military hospital in Kabul on 2 November 2021 after at least 19 people were killed and 50 others wounded in an attack. Picture: AFP

KABUL - At least 19 people were killed and 50 more wounded in an attack on a military hospital in Kabul on Tuesday, the latest atrocity to rock Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the gun and bomb assault in the centre of the capital, but a Taliban spokesperson blamed the group's hardline rivals, the Islamic State.

"The IS insurgents wanted to target civilians, doctors and patients in the hospital," spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said, claiming that Taliban forces had repulsed the attack within 15 minutes.

As part of the response, he said, Taliban "special forces" were dropped onto the roof of the hospital from one of the helicopters that the group seized from Afghanistan's former US-backed government.

The attack got under way when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the entrance of the sprawling site.

Gunmen then broke into the hospital grounds, firing their weapons.

"Nineteen dead bodies and about 50 wounded people have been taken to hospitals in Kabul," a health ministry official who asked not to be named told AFP.

Mujahid played down the death toll, but confirmed that two Taliban fighters, two women and a child had been killed outside the hospital.

One woman who had been trapped in the hospital when the attack began told AFP how she and her friend "felt we were going to die, that our lives were ending".

"There was a blast at the door," Rowana Dawari, a poet and lecturer, told AFP.

"Daesh came and started firing, we were stuck. We heard firing, glass breaking. We locked ourselves in a bathroom," she said, referring to IS by its local name.

"Later, Taliban came and we saw they were with our doctors, so we knew it was OK."

Amanudhin, a 28-year-old cleaner at the hospital, pushed an elderly, frail and partially sighted patient, Mariam, away from the scene a wheelchair because she had no one to help her.

"The explosion happened and after a while people started screaming 'Daesh is here'," he told AFP. "We heard a lot of firing.

"We were on the 7th floor and locked ourselves in a room. There were injured people everywhere. Broken glass."

Thrown together by circumstance, they hid until Taliban fighters came to rescue them: "They were special forces, professionals, they broke the door and got inside."

The Taliban spent 20 years waging an insurgency against the ousted US-backed government.

Now they face the struggle of bringing stability to Afghanistan, which has been hit in recent weeks by a series of bloody assaults claimed by the Islamic State group's local chapter.

"All the attackers are dead. The attack was initiated by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle who blew himself up at the entrance of the hospital," a Taliban official from the government media team said.

"Some attackers entered the hospital compound."

Two explosions targeted the hospital area, he had earlier said in a statement.

AFP staff in the city heard a second explosion some 30 minutes after the first was reported.

"I heard a big explosion coming from the first checkpoint. We were told to go to safe rooms. I also hear guns firing," a doctor at the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital in Kabul told AFP while the attack was being carried out.

"I can still hear gun firing inside the hospital building. I think the attackers are going from room to room ... like the first time it was attacked," the doctor added.

AMBULANCES SPEEDING THROUGH KABUL

The hospital, which treats wounded soldiers from both the Taliban and former Afghan security forces, was previously attacked in 2017, when gunmen disguised as medical personnel killed at least 30 people in an hours-long siege.

Although both IS and the Taliban are hardline Sunni Islamist militants, they differ on details of religion and strategy.

IS have claimed four mass casualty attacks since the Taliban takeover on August 15, including suicide bomb blasts targeting Shiite Muslim mosques. The group regards Shiite Muslims as heretics.

In the 2017 attack on the military hospital, militants went room to room killing people, switching to knives when they ran out of ammunition.

That attack was claimed by the Islamic State group, and the Taliban denied responsibility.

However, survivors told AFP that the 2017 attackers chanted "Long live Taliban" in Pashto and attacked all but two wards on the hospital's first floor where Taliban patients were admitted.

BLACK SMOKE

An Italian NGO which runs a separate hospital in the capital tweeted on Tuesday that it has received nine patients with injuries from the blast site.

Pictures shared on social media showed black smoke billowing into the air after the explosions, the first of which went off at around 1pm (08:30 GMT).

AFP journalists saw Taliban fighters racing to the scene in two armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and pick-up trucks.

Roads close to the heavily fortified "Green Zone" where the buildings of several former Western embassies were located were closed off to traffic and Taliban guards scaled up searches.

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