Suicide blast hits British embassy vehicle in Kabul

KABUL (AFP) - A suicide bomber on a motorbike attacked a British embassy vehicle in Kabul on Thursday, officials said, killing at least five Afghans and wounding 34 bystanders in the latest blast to hit the city.

British embassy staff were also injured in the attack, though no further details were immediately released. Among the bystanders injured were five children, officials said.

The huge explosion could be heard across Kabul and a plume of smoke rose high into the air above the attack site on the Jalalabad road, a main route that houses many foreign compounds and military facilities.

The attack, coming three days after two US soldiers were killed in another bomb blast in Kabul, highlights the fragile security situation in the Afghan capital as foreign forces end their combat mission against the Taleban. The Taleban said they were behind Thursday's attack in a message on a recognised Twitter account, claiming that many foreigners had been killed.

Immediately after the blast, an AFP reporter saw one badly-shaken foreign passenger talking to Afghan police, asking after his wounded colleagues. A policeman at the scene said one Afghan in the British vehicle had suffered a serious arm injury, and that passengers covered in blood had been taken to hospital.

"A British embassy vehicle was attacked. There are some injuries. We are working with Afghan authorities," a spokesman for the British embassy told AFP.

Kenishka Turkistani, spokesmen for the ministry of public health, said five people were killed and 34 wounded in the attack.

"They are all Afghan civilians, the wounded include five children. We don't record foreign casualties," Turkistani said.

Wartorn Afghanistan suffered its deadliest attack of 2014 on Sunday when a suicide bomber struck at a volleyball match in the eastern province of Paktika, killing 57 people.

The US-led NATO combat mission in Afghanistan will finish at the end of this year, with about 12,500 troops staying on into 2015 to train and support the Afghan army and police. Fears are growing that Afghanistan could tip into a cycle of violence as the NATO military presence declines, with the national security forces already suffering high battlefield casualties.

President Ashraf Ghani, who came to power in September, has vowed to bring peace to Afghanistan after decades of conflict, saying he is open to talks with the Taleban, who ruled Kabul from 1996 to 2001.

Ghani finally emerged as president after signing a power-sharing deal with his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah. Both men claimed to have won fraud-tainted elections in a prolonged stand-off that caused political paralysis in Kabul and fuelled worsening violence nationwide.

Britain this week ended its 13-year military presence in southern Afghanistan when the last Royal Air Force personnel departed Kandahar airfield. The British military contribution next year will be the supervision of an officers' training academy outside Kabul.

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