KABUL (AFP) - Seven people were killed on Wednesday when a suicide bomber struck a minibus carrying employees of popular Afghan TV channel TOLO, just months after the Taleban declared the network a legitimate "military target".
At least 24 others were wounded in the bombing near the Russian embassy in downtown Kabul, which marks the first major attack on an Afghan media organisation.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the carnage, the latest in a wave of attacks despite an international push to jumpstart Taleban peace talks.
"Our office bus taking TOLO staff home came under attack," an employee at the channel told AFP, requesting anonymity.
The bombing left some staff members burning inside the vehicle, another employee said, adding that the bus was mostly filled with behind-the-scenes workers from the channel's graphics and dubbing departments.
The loud explosion sent a plume of smoke rising in the sky, with ambulances and firefighters rushing to the scene which was littered with charred debris.
The attack left seven people dead and 24 others wounded, police officials and the interior ministry said.
"The enemy of peace and Afghan people have martyred my colleagues," Fawad Aman, a well-known TOLO TV anchor, wrote on his Facebook page.
"Such cowardly attacks will not deter us from exposing the truth."
The Taleban in October declared TOLO and 1TV, both privately run news stations as legitimate "military targets".
The group said the move was in response to their reports claiming that Taleban fighters raped women at a female hostel in Kunduz, after the group briefly captured the northern city in late September last year.
The Taleban rejected the reports as fabrications, saying they were examples of propaganda by the "satanic networks".
The attack, which highlights the growing dangers faced by journalists in Afghanistan, comes just two days after a second round of a four-country meeting in Kabul aimed at reviving talks with the Taleban.
Delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States convened in the Afghan capital Monday for a one-day meeting seeking a negotiated end to the 14-year Taleban insurgency.
The first round of the so-called "roadmap" talks was held in Islamabad last week as the four nations try to lay the groundwork for direct dialogue between Kabul and the Islamist group.
Taleban representatives were notably absent in both rounds and analysts caution that any substantive talks are still a long way off.
The Taleban has stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets in Afghanistan this winter, when fighting usually abates, underscoring a worsening security situation.
Observers say the intensifying insurgency highlights a push by the militants to seize more territory in an attempt to wrangle greater concessions during talks.
Pakistan - the Taleban's historic backers - hosted a milestone first round of talks directly with the Taleban in July.
But the negotiations stalled when the insurgents belatedly confirmed the death of longtime leader Mullah Omar, sparking infighting within the group.
The four-country group is set to hold the next round of discussions on Feb 6 in Islamabad.