MAZAR-I-SHARIF (Afghanistan) • A Taleban suicide bomber rammed a truck packed with explosives into a wall around the German consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif on Thursday, killing at least six civilians and wounding scores, officials said.
The attack highlighted the security problems spreading across Afghanistan in recent months, underlining one of the most intractable foreign policy challenges that will face United States President-elect Donald Trump when he takes office next year.
A Nato spokesman said the explosion late on Thursday had caused "massive damage" to the building.
Heavily armed attackers followed up the initial blast, battling with Afghan and German security forces late into the night before the attack was suppressed.
"The extent of damage to the city is huge," said Mr Abdul Razaq Qaderi, deputy police chief of Balkh province.
"This kind of an attack, bringing a truck full of explosives and blowing it up in the city, had never happened before. The city is still recovering from the shock," he added.
The city's hospitals received six dead bodies, including two killed by bullets, said local doctor Noor Mohammad Fayez. At least 128 others were wounded, some of them critically and many with shrapnel injuries, he added.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Berlin said all German employees of the consulate general were safe and unharmed.
The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for Nato air strikes against a village near the northern city of Kunduz last week in which more than 30 people were killed.
The Islamist movement's spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said by telephone that heavily armed fighters, including suicide bombers, had been sent "with a mission to destroy the German consulate-general and kill whoever they found there".
More than 30 people were killed last week when US aircraft carried out air strikes in support of Afghan and US special forces who came under attack during a raid against suspected Taleban militants threatening Kunduz. Two US servicemen were killed.
Germany, which heads the Nato-led Resolute Support mission in northern Afghanistan, has about 850 soldiers at a base on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif, with another 1,000 troops coming from 20 partner countries.
The explosion occurred about an hour before midnight local time, a spokesman for the German military joint forces command in Potsdam said. Witnesses reported sporadic gunfire from around the consulate and said the huge blast had shattered windows in a wide area around the compound.
The Nato spokesman said at least one car packed with explosives had been rammed into the high outer wall surrounding the consulate, but the authorities were investigating if a second car had been involved.
The heavily protected consulate is in a large building close to the Blue Mosque in the centre of the city, where the Indian consulate was also attacked by militants ear- lier this year.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE