By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 20, 2011; A10
KABUL - Three suicide bombers stormed a branch of Kabul Bank in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing 18 people and wounding dozens more, according to Afghan officials.
The bombers blew themselves up as the branch in Jalalabad, in Nangahar province, was crowded with Afghan soldiers collecting their salaries, said Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Several soldiers were among the casualties.
The bombing was the latest in a recent string of high-profile attacks on civilian targets in Afghanistan, including bombings of a hotel and grocery store in Kabul and a deadly blast in the eastern city of Khost.
It was also a fresh setback for Afghanistan's largest and most troubled bank. Spooked by a Central Bank takeover because of reckless lending, a run on Kabul Bank last year nearly drove it to collapse. The bank is partly owned by the brothers of President Hamid Karzai and one of his vice presidents.
Still, it remains the country's most important financial institution, with dozens of branches nationwide. It also holds the contract for salary payments to Afghan soldiers and police.
A hospital official in Jalalabad said that in addition to those killed, the bombing Saturday wounded 70 people. Jalalabad, like many other big cities in Afghanistan, is relatively secure, compared with the more violent rural areas.
"Insurgents blatantly targeted Afghan civilians in this truly vile attack on the people of Afghanistan," Rear Adm. Victor Beck, a U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, said in a statement.
The Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack, the Associated Press reported.