KABUL — A Taliban suicide bomb blast struck a crew affiliated with Afghanistan’s largest media group Wednesday, killing at least seven people and raising fears of further militant violence against one of the country’s most prominent news outlets.
Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest against media in Afghanistan in recent years. Last year, the Taliban declared one of the media group’s flagship stations, Tolo News, a legitimate target and accused it of promoting immorality and foreign culture.
In recent years, the station has regularly run anti-militant ads funded by the U.S. military and NATO-led forces.
Kabul Police Chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said the bomber detonated a powerful blast near a minivan carrying nearly 30 staff members of Kaboora Production, a unit of the Moby Group, which also includes Tolo.
Rahimi told reporters at the scene that at least seven people — five men and two women — were killed and 25 were injured on a road near the Russian Embassy in western Kabul.
“The target was Kaboora Production,” he said.
Taliban insurgents denounced Tolo for its coverage of the fall of the northern city of Kunduz to militants in October. The station reported that the Taliban committed war crimes in Kunduz.
Kunduz was eventually recaptured by Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes — which included an apparent mistaken attack on a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders. More than 40 civilians died in the airstrike. The medical charity called for an independent investigation.
“You cannot silence our voice,” said one of the presenters on Tolo News shortly after Wednesday’s attack. In a sign of mourning, another TV channel belonging to Moby Group canceled its regular programs and played Koranic recitations.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the minivan was under Taliban surveillance and denounced Tolo News as an “important tool of warfare of America and the crusaders” in Afghanistan. He warned of more attacks against the station and its affiliates if its policies remain unchanged.
Younus Fakoor, a political analyst, described the attack as an attempt to “frighten the media in Afghanistan.”
The privately owned Moby Group has 15 newsgathering offices throughout Afghanistan and business offices in Dubai.
Taliban militants have increasingly targeted sites in Kabul amid deepening rifts over efforts to restart peace talks.
Envoys from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States are scheduled to meet in Kabul later this week to discuss possible peace initiatives.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who was on an official visit to Switzerland, said his government “would not negotiate with those who shed the blood of innocent people.” He promised stronger crackdowns on militants.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the U.N. mission in Afghanistan also condemned the attack.