KABUL, Afghanistan — A powerful midday blast on the grounds of the heavily guarded national military hospital here killed at least 6 people and injured more than 20 others, government officials said.
Gen. Zahir Azimi, a Defense Ministry spokesman, described the six people who were killed as medical students, but a doctor at the hospital said they were Afghan soldiers training to be medics.
General Azimi said the attack was the work of one suicide attacker who set off the blast inside a tent at the multistory hospital as the trainees were sitting down to lunch. Investigators were trying to determine how the attacker infiltrated the grounds, bypassing military checkpoints at every entrance.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the blast.
The military doctor, who asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that only the legs of the suicide attacker remained from the blast, but from those remains it appeared he was wearing an army uniform. The doctor determined that the remains belonged to the suicide bomber from the amount of damage to the body.
“It was a tragic incident,” the doctor said. “I will never forget this; it was a horrible scene.”
The medical center, the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital, provides medical care to Afghan National Army soldiers and their families and is considered one of the best-equipped health care facilities in the country. It also is a training ground for doctors and medics.
“The enemies of Afghanistan are so cruel and spiritless that they even attack patients and doctors of the hospital, which is against Islamic laws and principles,” President Hamid Karzai said in a statement, calling the attack a “wild act” against human and religious values.
The explosion, which rattled buildings, could be heard from several miles away.
“I was in the operating room treating a wounded soldier when I heard a big blast from the back of the operations theater,” Dr. Yakub Norzai said by telephone.
Dr. Norzai said the hallway outside the operating room was filled with people injured from the blast.
The attack is sure to reignite concerns about insurgent infiltrators within the ranks of the Afghan security forces, and about sympathizers working within the government. All vehicles and visitors are supposed to be searched before entering the compound.
Last month, a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform infiltrated the police headquarters in Kandahar and killed the province’s much-revered police chief and two officers. The next day, a bomber in an Afghan Army uniform carried out a similar attack at a military base in Lagham Province, killing five NATO service members, an American contractor and four members of the Afghan security force. Days later, a would-be suicide bomber in an Afghan Army uniform opened fire inside the heavily fortified Defense Ministry in downtown Kabul, killing two soldiers. He was killed before he could detonate explosives in his vest.
As investigators searched the hospital grounds on Saturday, dozens of friends and relatives of workers and patients crowded outside the police lines, anxious for news that was slow in coming.
“My brother was in there,” said Dr. Rahima Jan, 29, who works at a nearby medical facility. “I keep trying to call him, but his phone is off and no one is letting us inside.”
NATO officials have said they expect increased violence as international troops begin drawing down their presence in July. The United States and NATO plan to fully withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014.
Government Building Stormed
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Gunmen in suicide vests stormed a government building in eastern Afghanistan early Sunday and were in a shootout with Afghan security forces, officials said.
One guard was killed as the attackers, three or four men, shot their way into the traffic department compound on the edge of the city of Khost about 5 a.m., said Gen. Raz Mohammad Oryakhail, the army commander for Khost Province. The gun battle was continuing more than two hours later, he said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility, but the attack matched a pattern of Taliban assaults on government buildings.