KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 29 -- A powerful car bomb exploded at dusk Sunday outside the downtown office of a U.S. security contracting firm and an adjacent building where Afghan police are trained. Officials said that at least four people were killed and that at least two of them were Americans.
The blast, which engulfed the police facility in flames, shattered office and store windows for three blocks in all directions. It was the deadliest bomb to strike this rapidly developing postwar capital in two years, and it came days before campaigning begins for the country's first-ever presidential elections in October.
An Afghan police officer and an American security guard try to maintain order after a bomb exploded outside the Kabul office of DynCorp Inc.
(Ahmad Masood -- Reuters)
Video Report: An explosion tore through the office of an American defense contractor in the Afghan capital Sunday, killing as many as six.
Extremist Islamic groups have vowed to disrupt the elections through violence, and within two hours of the explosion, purported spokesmen for the Taliban Islamic militia had claimed responsibility for the bomb attack in telephone calls to two news agencies.
The office of President Hamid Karzai issued a statement Sunday night saying the blast had killed seven people: two Americans, three Nepalese guards and two Afghans, one of them a young boy. Security agencies could confirm only four deaths, however.
"The president understands that as the people of Afghanistan move towards elections, the enemies of Afghanistan will expedite their efforts to harm the election process and threaten the people's security," the statement said, adding that Afghanistan will continue "relentlessly" on a path to peace and reconstruction.
A bombing several hours earlier killed nine people at a school in the southern province of Paktia, Afghan officials said. The victims were as young as 7. The school was in Zurmat, a town that has been a site of recurrent clashes between alleged Taliban fighters and U.S. and Afghan troops.
DynCorp Inc., the Reston-based security firm whose office was apparently targeted by the bomber in Kabul, provides a large team of private guards for Karzai, who shifted from Afghan guards shortly after the assassination of Vice President Abdul Qadir in July 2002.
The blast occurred in front of an adjacent building in which foreign security experts are training Afghan police recruits. The U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, said in a statement that the bombing appeared to have been aimed at the security firm but that it would not set back efforts to build a secure environment in the country, which was devastated by 23 years of conflict.
"This cowardly attack will not deter U.S. participation in the ongoing effort to help Afghanistan stand on its own feet," Khalilzad said. "Rebuilding Afghanistan's security institutions is a vital step toward the creation of a secure, peaceful country. . . . The training of police and the army will continue to go forward."
Kabul's police chief, Gen. Baba Jan, told reporters near the blast site that some of the dead and injured people had been taken to hospitals and that some were foreigners, but he did not give exact numbers or nationalities.
"There was an explosion, there was damage, there are bodies. . . . We do not know who did this action," Jan said, standing at a traffic circle that was clogged with wailing ambulances, military tanks driven by international peacekeeping troops and city buses crowded with passengers during rush hour.
None of the victims was publicly identified, and reporters were kept away from the scene by dozens of Afghan police, foreign peacekeeping troops and U.S. security forces in plainclothes carrying assault rifles.
A spokesman for California-based Computer Sciences Corp, which is DynCorp's parent company, said he could "confirm that a DynCorp office in Kabul was the target of an apparent car bombing" in which there were "a number" of casualties.
The spokesman said that the company was "working to confirm the number and identities of the victims," and that the organization's "operations in Afghanistan are continuing."