An Afghan security guard looks out from a police booth at the site of a suicide bombing in a parking lot in central Kabul on May 19. At least five people were killed when a car exploded in the parking lot of the Afghan Justice Ministry. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)

A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car outside a key government building in central Kabul on Tuesday afternoon, killing at least five people, wounding scores of others and spreading even more fear in the already rattled Afghan capital.

The explosion occurred about 4 p.m. in the parking lot of the Justice Ministry, which is near several other government buildings and Kabul’s only four-star hotel, the Serena.

The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying its fighters would continue to target prosecutors and judges. The radical Islamist movement has been stepping up its attacks as part of its annual spring offensive. With just 9,800 U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan, the Taliban has been locked in bloody battles with Afghan security forces in rural parts of the country while also striking targets deep in the capital.

Seddiq Sediqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said five civilians were killed and 24 others wounded in Tuesday’s bombing. But a spokesman for the Health Ministry said more than 40 people were injured and that the death toll could rise.

Sediqi said the attack occurred when a car packed with explosives tried to enter the ministry’s parking lot. The timing of the attack coincided with the end of the Afghan workday.

An Afghan man throws a broken window from a building at the site of the bomb blast in Kabul on May 19. (Omar Sobhani/Reuters)

Nearby streets and sidewalks were packed with pedestrians and motorists, and the force of the explosion shattered windows and storefronts in a radius of several blocks around the Justice Ministry. It was not immediately clear whether the Serena Hotel, which was the target of a major terrorist attack last year, was damaged.

Mohammad Zaman was in a nearby shopping mall when the explosion occurred.

“The glass was shattered, the females were crying, and we were just lucky to be able to leave the scene, Zaman said.

The attack was another sign that, after a brief lull in the violence earlier this year, Kabul is once again “a scary place,” Zaman added.

“After this, I will not leave my house unless it’s something urgent,” he said.

Last Wednesday, a Taliban militant shot and killed 15 people at a guesthouse in an upmarket section of the city. Ten foreigners, including one American, died in that attack.

On Sunday, a car packed with explosives rammed a European Union convoy near the entrance to Kabul International Airport, killing a British security consultant as well as two Afghan civilians.

Over the past three weeks, Taliban insurgents have also twice attacked buses carrying employees to or from the Afghan attorney general’s office.

Security is also deteriorating in other parts of Afghanistan. According to provincial officials, major clashes have occurred recently in at least 10 provinces.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul condemned Tuesday’s attack, which it said “reminds us of the risks that the civilian staff of the Ministry of Justice face in going about their daily work supporting the administration of rule of law in Afghanistan.”

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