Suicide attack at Afghan hospital kills at least 25

At least 25 civilians, many of them women and children, were killed Saturday in rural Logar province when a suicide bomber drove a vehicle packed with explosives into the front entrance of a crowded public hospital, where it exploded, officials said.

Scores were wounded, including patients and staff, and some of the worst injured were ferried to hospitals in the capital, Kabul. Officials said much of the destruction and death took place in the hospital’s maternity ward. The building was described as badly damaged by the blast, which occurred just after noon.

No group asserted responsibility for the attack, which was especially shocking in its location and intended victims. The Taliban regularly carries out suicide bombings against government officials and supporters as well as Afghan and Western security forces. Its spokesmen often contact the media after an attack, but on Saturday the group said nothing.

Provincial and national officials blamed “the enemies of Afghanistan,” a blanket euphemism for the Taliban and other insurgent groups fighting the Afghan state and its Western allies. The hospital is in the Arza district of Logar, an area described as being partly under Taliban control.

“This is a despicable attack against civilians who were seeking medical care, as well as visiting family members and health workers,” said a statement by Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan in Kabul. “Attacks on hospitals are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.”

Some reports gave much higher numbers of dead and wounded, but those figures could not be confirmed. An official at the Ministry of Public Health said 50 people had died; Tolo TV news put the toll at 60. Logar’s provincial governor, Atiqullah Ludin, said a female doctor was among the dead and that nine critically injured victims had been taken to hospitals in Kabul, about 40 miles north.

President Hamid Karzai’s office issued a strong statement of condemnation, saying, “Afghanistan’s enemies are such cowardly tyrants that contrary to all humanitarian and Islamic principles, they conduct attacks on patients and doctors and kill them mercilessly.”

Saturday’s attack came one day after 10 civilians, also including women, were killed in a bombing in a crowded market in northern Kunduz province. That attack left 24 injured, officials said.

May and June have been especially bloody months for civilians and security forces in the decade-long war against the Taliban and other Islamist fighters. Insurgents have launched attacks in areas regarded as peaceful, apparently in an attempt to undermine the transition from foreign to Afghan security control, which is scheduled to begin in seven areas next month and reach the entire country by 2014.

Salahuddin is a special correspondent.