At least 19 people have been killed with dozens more wounded after explosions and gunfire rocked Afghanistan’s biggest military hospital in an apparent ISIS suicide bomb attack.
Militants entered the 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital where they went room to room opening fire and clashed with Taliban security forces, witnesses said.
Photos from inside the hospital showed the blood-spattered floor of the children’s ward after the attack which has left at least 50 people wounded.
A Taliban official said all assailants had now been killed.
They added: ‘The attack was initiated by a suicide bomber on a motorcycle who blew himself up at the entrance of the hospital.’
‘Nineteen dead bodies and about 50 wounded people have been taken to hospitals in Kabul,’ a health ministry official who asked not to be named told AFP.
Italian aid group Emergency, which runs a trauma hospital said nine wounded had been brought in so far.
Photographs shared by residents showed a plume of smoke over the area of the blasts near the former diplomatic zone in the Wazir Akbar Khan area in central Kabul.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
But the official Bakhtar news agency quoted witnesses saying a number of Islamic State fighters entered the hospital.
‘I am inside the hospital. I heard a big explosion coming from the first checkpoint. We were told to go to safe rooms. I also hear guns firing,’ a doctor at the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital in Kabul told AFP.
‘I can still hear gun firing inside the hospital building. I think the attackers are going from room to room… like the first time it was attacked,’ the doctor added.
The hospital, which treats wounded soldiers from both the Taliban and former Afghan security forces, was previously attacked in 2017, when gunmen disguised as medical personnel killed at least 30 people in an hours-long siege.
A Taliban media spokesman confirmed two explosions hit the hospital area on Tuesday.
‘One explosion has happened at the gate of the military hospital and a second somewhere near the hospital, this is our initial information, we will provide more details later,’ he told AFP.
Qari Saeed Khosty, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said Taliban special forces had rushed to the scene to secure the area after ‘a bomb’ exploded.
AFP journalists heard a second blast followed by gunfire.
Although both ISIS and the Taliban are hardline Sunni Islamist militants, they have differed on the minutiae of religion and strategy.
ISIS have claimed four mass casualty attacks since the Taliban takeover on August 15, including suicide bomb blasts targeting Shiite Muslim mosques. It regards Shiite Muslims as heretics.
In the 2017 attack on the military hospital, militants went room to room killing people, switching to knives when they ran out of ammunition.
That attack was claimed by the Islamic State group, and the Taliban denied responsibility.
However, survivors told AFP that the attackers chanted ‘Long live Taliban’ in Pashto and attacked all but two wards on the hospital’s first floor where Taliban patients were admitted.
Roads close to the heavily fortified ‘Green Zone’ where the buildings of several former Western embassies are located were closed off to traffic and Taliban guards scaled up searches.
Sirens could be heard in the streets and ambulances were seen speeding towards the blast site, and two helicopters circled above the city throughout the afternoon.
A health worker at the hospital, who managed to escape, said he heard a large explosion followed by a couple of minutes of gunfire. About ten minutes later, there was a second, larger explosion, he said.
He said it was unclear whether the blasts and the gunfire were inside the sprawling hospital complex.
The blasts add to a growing list of attacks and killings since the Taliban completed their victory over the previous Western-backed government in August, undermining their claim to have restored security to Afghanistan after decades of war.