PICTURES

Blast near Indian consulate in Afghanistan: Officials

Afghanistan policemen walk at the site of a suicide attack in front of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad on Saturday, Aug 3, 2013. Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, detonating an explos
Afghanistan policemen walk at the site of a suicide attack in front of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad on Saturday, Aug 3, 2013. Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, detonating an explosives-packed car outside the building and killing nine civilians, including a child. -- PHOTO: AFP
Men walk at the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad province on Saturday, Aug 3, 2013. Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, detonating an explosives-packed car outside the building and k
Men walk at the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad province on Saturday, Aug 3, 2013. Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, detonating an explosives-packed car outside the building and killing nine civilians, including a child. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Afghan policemen walk at the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad province on Saturday, Aug 3, 2013. Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, detonating an explosives-packed car outside the b
Afghan policemen walk at the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad province on Saturday, Aug 3, 2013. Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, detonating an explosives-packed car outside the building and killing nine civilians, including a child. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Remains of a dead body being carried away from the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad province on August 3, 2013. A suicide bomber attacked the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan capital of Jalalabad on Saturday, Indian officials and local pol
Remains of a dead body being carried away from the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad province on August 3, 2013. A suicide bomber attacked the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan capital of Jalalabad on Saturday, Indian officials and local police said, killing at least 9 people and wounding more than 20. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Afghan volunteers and security personnel carry a wounded man at the site of a suicide attack in front of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad on August 3, 2013. Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, killi
Afghan volunteers and security personnel carry a wounded man at the site of a suicide attack in front of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad on August 3, 2013. Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, killing at least nine civilians when they detonated an explosives-packed car outside the building. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Afghanistan policemen and civilians walk at the site of a suicide attack in front of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad on August 3, 2013. Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, killing at least nine civ
Afghanistan policemen and civilians walk at the site of a suicide attack in front of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad on August 3, 2013. Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, killing at least nine civilians when they detonated an explosives-packed car outside the building. -- PHOTO: AFP 

JALALABAD, Afghanistan / Nangarhar (AFP) - Suicide bombers targeted the Indian consulate in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Saturday, detonating an explosives-packed car outside the building and killing nine civilians, including a child.

A spokesman for the Taleban militant group immediately denied any responsibility for the attack, which rocked the city and left a mosque, private houses, tailors and other nearby shops in ruins.

"A car containing explosives hit a barrier near the consulate and detonated," Mr Ahmadzia Abdulzai, spokesman for Nangarhar province, of which Jalalabad is the capital, told AFP. "There were three suicide bombers in the car."

Nangarhar police chief Sharif Amin confirmed that the consulate was the intended target of the blast, which created a large crater in the road as survivors wearing blood-stained clothing ran for cover.

The interior ministry condemned the attack as "heinous" and said nine people had died, with 21 other civilians wounded. The death toll included at least one child.

An AFP photographer reported that ambulances rushed to the scene and took the injured to hospital as security forces cordoned off the area, where several large buildings were badly damaged.

Mr Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for the Indian foreign ministry in New Delhi, said on his Twitter account that all officials were safe after the attack - the first major strike in Afghanistan during the holy month of Ramadan that started on July 10.

India, which has spent more than US$2 billion (S$2.53 billion) of aid in Afghanistan since the Taleban regime fell in 2001, has been previously targeted in the war-torn country.

In 2008, a car bomb attack on the Indian embassy killed more than 60 people and, in 2010, suicide attacks on two guesthouses killed at least 16 people including seven Indians.

"Our fighters have not carried out any attack in Jalalabad," Taleban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP. "We do not claim the responsibility for this attack."

Jalalabad is situated on the key route from the Pakistani border region - where many militants are based - to Kabul, and it has been the location of repeated attacks in recent years.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) compound in the city was hit on May 29, with the Taleban rebels also denying any involvement. One Afghan guard died in the attack, which triggered widespread outrage as the ICRC is one of the most respected aid groups in Afghanistan and has remained strictly neutral during the war.

In March, seven suicide bombers attacked a police base in Jalalabad, killing five officers. The previous month, a bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into the gates of the National Directorate of Security spy agency and detonated bombs, killing two intelligence workers.

Nine Taleban suicide attackers also targeted the NATO base at Jalalabad airport in early December, killing five people and wounding several foreign troops.

Nangarhar province has seen heavy fighting in recent days with more than 20 Afghan policemen and dozens of Taleban insurgents killed when hundreds of fighters ambushed a police and military convoy on Friday.

The hardline Taleban have led a 12-year insurgency against the Afghan government since being overthrown in a US-led invasion for harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

But Afghanistan is beset by a myriad of armed groups ranging from Islamist rebels to criminal gangs and militias formed during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and the 1992-1996 civil war.

The US State Department said on Friday that it was closing at least 22 US embassies or consulates on Sunday, a work day in many Islamic countries, due to the threat of a major militant attack.