KABUL, Afghanistan — An explosion near the Foreign Ministry in the Afghan capital on Wednesday killed five people and wounded several others, a Taliban police spokesman said, the second prominent attack in Kabul so far in 2023.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group — known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province — has increased its assaults since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. Targets have included Taliban patrols and members of the country's Shiite minority.
The mid-afternoon explosion was followed by peals of sirens. Taliban security forces prevented journalists from getting close to the site, threatening them with guns and telling them to leave.
Kabul police chief spokesman Khalid Zadran said security teams have been deployed to the site. Later he said that as the result of the explosion, "five of our civilians were killed and a number of others were wounded."
Zadran offered no other details on the source of the blast or say how many people were wounded. Taliban government officials did not respond to requests seeking additional comment.
More than 40 wounded were brought to a surgical center in Kabul run by Emergency NGO, a humanitarian organization. Stefano Sozza, Emergency's director in Afghanistan, said casualty numbers were continuing to rise as the situation unfolded.
"The death toll is still rising," he said. "This is the first mass casualty in 2023, but certainly one of those with the most patients since the beginning of 2022. So much so, that we have also set up beds in the kitchens and canteen."
Checkpoints line the fortified route to the ministry, which is on one of the roads leading to the presidential palace. Guards stop and search vehicles and people along the way.
A photograph posted on social media, purportedly of the blast site, shows at least six bodies on the ground.
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who lives near the ministry, condemned the explosion, calling it an "act of terrorism, a crime against humanity and an act against all human and Islamic values." He expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and wished the wounded a swift recovery.
The United Nations condemned the attack.
"This is just another example of the of the rising insecurity which is of great concern to us," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. It is "no way to bring any sort of peace to Afghanistan."
He said U.N. special representative for Afghanistan Roza Otunbayeva had been at the ministry earlier Wednesday, partly "to stress to the Taliban, that they must end their intensifying campaign against Afghan women and Afghan girls."
"She emphasized that the bans on education and aid agency work for Afghan women need to be revoked now to halt an even deeper slide into instability and poverty," Dujarric said.
Asked whether there were fears that Otunbayeva might have been the target of the attack, Dujarric said the U.N. was not interpreting that to be the case.
Pakistan said it stood in solidarity with Afghans in the fight against the scourge of terrorism.
In the earlier attack this year in Kabul, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for a bombing near a checkpoint at the city's military airport that killed and wounded several people. There have been no official casualty figures for that attack so far.
IS also claimed an assault on a Kabul hotel in mid-December.