A massive explosion rocked Kabul late Wednesday amid fears a British security company had been targeted, officials said, with casualties expected in the latest violence to beset the Afghan capital.
The interior ministry and police both said the blast had been a car bomb targeting a compound which houses G4S, a British security company, in eastern Kabul. There was no immediate confirmation from the company or the British embassy in Kabul, however.
Interior Ministry deputy spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said casualties were “not known”.
Kabul police spokesman Basir Mujahid said at least six wounded people had been evacuated from the site, but could not confirm their nationality.
Earlier, sources had said the blast was followed by gunfire. “There was some gunfire at the beginning, but it has stopped,” Mujahid said.
There was no immediate claim for the attack. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State group have stepped up their attacks on Kabul, which is one of the deadliest places in the country for civilians.
According to its website, G4S provides security for the UK Foreign Office in Kabul.
The attack came just hours after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a 12-person team for prospective peace talks with the Taliban, as the UN renewed calls for direct negotiations between Kabul and the militants.
The Afghan government, Western diplomats and United Nations officials have in recent weeks raised hopes of finally reaching a deal to end the Taliban’s 17-year insurgency.
At an international conference on Afghanistan in Geneva, Ghani said his government had “formed a 12-person negotiating team, comprised of both women and men, and led by presidential chief of staff (Abdul Salam) Rahimi”.
Rahimi, a former humanitarian worker and ex-deputy Afghan finance minister, is considered one of Ghani’s closest aides.
However, Wednesday’s assault also follows a wave of bloody violence across the war-torn country in recent weeks that has killed hundreds of people as militants step up their attacks.
On November 20 at least 55 people were killed when a bomber blew himself up in the middle of a banquet hall in one of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan this year.
The violence comes as the Taliban intensifies pressure on Afghan security forces, even as the international community ramps up efforts towards talks.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has expressed hopes that a peace deal to end the war could be struck before the Afghan presidential election, scheduled for April.
His comments underscore an apparent increasing sense of urgency in the White House and among American diplomats for a peace deal to be done quickly.