A powerful bomb hidden in a sewage truck exploded on Wednesday in the heart of the Afghan capital Kabul, killing nearly 90 people and wounding several hundred.
The blast occurred during the morning rush hour in a busy part of the Afghan capital that houses many foreign embassies, government departments and the presidential palace. The victims appeared mainly to have been Afghan civilians on their way to work or school, as well as office workers whose nearby buildings did not have the protection of the blast walls that fortify the zone.
A huge hole was ripped into the ground at the site of the explosion, which tore off the front of the German embassy's building and shattered windows and blew doors off their hinges in houses hundreds of metres away.
The attack is one of the most serious seen in the capital for several months and comes during the start of the holy month of Ramadan.
Basir Mujahid, a spokesperson for city police, suggested that the German embassy might not have been the target of the blast, which sent towering clouds of black smoke into the sky near the presidential palace.
"There are several other important compounds and offices near there too," he told Reuters.
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) May 31, 2017
Witnesses described dozens of cars choking the roads as wounded survivors and panicked children on their way to school sought safety. People struggled to get through security checkpoints to search for loved ones.
TRT World's Kilmeny Duchardt has more.
Uncertain future for Afghan refugees
In the aftermath of the attack, Germany said it had postponed a scheduled deportation flight of rejected Afghan asylum seekers.
A government source said the charter flight was scrapped because diplomatic and consular staff, "so shortly after the attack, have more important things to do than to deal with organisational matters".
Austrian officials, however, said that 17 Afghans have been returned to their homeland on Wednesday, adding to the hundreds this year forced to leave Austria after their requests for asylum were rejected. Austria considers parts of Afghanistan safe enough to return would-be refugees who do not qualify for that status.
Death and devastation
The BBC said its Afghan driver Mohammed Nazir was killed and four of their journalists wounded. Local TV channel Nazir was killed and four of their journalists wounded. Local TV channel Tolo TV also tweeted that a staff member Aziz Navin was killed.
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) May 31, 2017
The explosion damaged several embassies in the area, which houses diplomatic and government buildings and is a maze of concrete blast walls, vehicle barriers and armed security guards.
Neighbouring countries India and Pakistan sent their condolences in the wake of the attack. "Pakistan being a victim of terrorism understands the pain and agony that such incidents inflict upon the people and society", the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement.
"India stands with Afghanistan in fighting all types of terrorism. Forces supporting terrorism need to be defeated," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.
We strongly condemn the terrorist blast in Kabul. Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased & prayers with the injured.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 31, 2017
The blast has also triggered protests in the capital against the government over what the public sees as a failure to provide security.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Daesh has also claimed several recent bombings in the Afghan capital, including a powerful blast targeting an armoured NATO convoy that killed at least eight people and wounded 28 on May 3.
The Afghan Taliban has denied any responsibility.
The blast was the latest in a long line of attacks in the Afghan capital. Kabul province had the highest number of casualties in the first three months of 2017 thanks to multiple attacks in the city, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.
Breaking the deadlock
The Taliban have been stepping up their push to defeat the US-backed government. Since most international troops withdrew at the end of 2014, the Taliban have gained ground and now control or contest about 40 percent of the country, according to US estimates, though Ghani's government holds all provincial centres.
Afghan troops are backed by US and NATO forces, and the Pentagon has reportedly asked the White House to send thousands more soldiers to break the deadlock in the battle against the Taliban.
TRT World speaks to journalist Bilal Sarwary who is in Kabul.
This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.