At least 30 people were killed and hundreds wounded when a Taliban truck bomb tore through central Kabul today, triggering a fierce gunfight, a week after the insurgents launched their annual spring offensive.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a densely crowded neighbourhood, which sent clouds of acrid smoke billowing into the sky and rattled windows several kilometres away.
The brazen assault near the defence ministry marks the first major Taliban attack in the Afghan capital since the insurgents announced the start of this year's fighting season.
"One of the suicide attackers blew up an explosives-laden truck in a public parking lot next to a government building," Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi told reporters.
"The second attacker engaged security forces in a gunbattle before being gunned down."
Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said 30 people, including women and children, were killed in the attack and warned that the toll could rise further.
He added that more than 320 were wounded, with many of them battling for their lives in hospital.
The pitched firefight appeared to die down several hours after the powerful explosion, but some security officials expressed concern that other bombers may still be on the loose.
"I saw wounded people lying on the road and screaming helplessly," said Sadiqullah, who runs a tea stall near the building which was attacked.
"It was devastating. We are fed up with such attacks. How long must ordinary civilians suffer like this?"
The interior ministry said hundreds of kilogrammes of explosives were used in the bombing, the deadliest so far this year in the Afghan capital.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed their fighters had managed to enter the offices of the National Directorate of Security, the country's main spy agency.
Sediqqi conceded that one of the attackers managed to breach the compound, an office responsible for providing security to government VIPs, but said he was gunned down after a firefight.
"This attack shows the devastation caused by the use of explosive devices in urban areas and once more demonstrates complete disregard for the lives of Afghan civilians," the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said.
"The use of explosives in populated areas, in circumstances almost certain to cause immense suffering to civilians, may amount to war crimes."