Nine Afghans killed in bombing near Indian consulate

Kabul/New Delhi, Aug 4 (IANS) At least nine Afghans, including children, were killed and 24 wounded Saturday when a suicide bomber blew up a car laden with explosives near the Indian consulate in Afghanistan's Jalalabad city, police said. The mission staff was unhurt.

"Nine civilians were killed in the coordinated suicide attack in the 3rd police district near the Indian consulate in Jalalabad at around 10 a.m. Saturday," the Nangarhar provincial government said in a statement. The three attackers were also killed.

The powerful blast sent a plume of grey smoke soaring into the sky, and damaged several houses and shops nearby. There was a big crater on the road, TV footage showed.

Most of the casualties were children as the blast took place near a mosque where dozens of children attended religious classes in the city, 120 km east of the Afghan capital Kabul, provincial police chief Sharifullah Amin said.

Afghan security forces quickly sealed off the blast site.

The provincial government said "the attackers tried to assault the consulate office. But the security forces were alerted about the attack on the compound".

"Following the arrival of the attackers, two militants got off a sedan and fired on security forces. But the third man detonated the explosive-packed car causing casualties," the statement said, adding the militants were killed in the blast.

One local security force member was also injured.

No damage was caused to the consulate, consulate sources said.

Afghanistan's Tolo news agency quoted police chief Gen. Amin as saying that they had been alerted about such an attack on the Indian consulate.

No group including the Taliban or the Haqqani network has claimed responsibility for the attack. The blast is the first major attack since the start of Ramadan in Afghanistan.

India, which is involved in major development work in Afghanistan, said the attack has "once again highlighted that the main threat to Afghanistan's security and stability stems from terrorism and the terror machine that continues to operate from beyond its borders."

Indian external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said India will not be deterred from its commitment to assist Afghanistan in its reconstruction and development effort.

"This was clearly an attack not just against India but an attack against the efforts to help the Afghan people overcome the tragic hardships they have endured due to several decades of war".

India is building the parliament building in Kabul, the Salma dam and power transmission lines among other development assistance.

"The suicide attacks against the Indian Consulate General in Jalalabad, which has led to the injuries and deaths of several valiant Afghan Police personnel as well as deaths of several innocent Afghan civilians including children, must be condemned in the strongest possible terms," he added.

The spokesperson said that India wishes to express its deep gratitude to the valiant Afghan security personnel who laid down their lives while protecting the Indian Consulate.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a purported Taliban spokesman, told local media from undisclosed location via cell phone that the Taliban insurgents were not behind the attack.

Provincial Governor Gul Agha Shirzai and the country's interior ministry strongly condemned the attack.

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul Saturday told his Indian counterpart Salman Khursheed that Afghanistan will leave "no stone unturned" to ensure the safety of Indian diplomatic personnel in that country, sources said.

When Khursheed called Rassoul to thank him for the efforts of Afghan forces in ensuring the safety of the Consulate General of India in Jalalabad, the Afghan minister also conveyed that his government is determined to "counter the efforts those inimical to India's friendship with Afghanistan" .

India had been previously the target of terror strikes. In October 2009, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked the Indian embassy in Kabul, killing at least 17 people. None of the Indian officials were injured in the attack.

In July 2008 a suicide bomber rammed a car full of explosives into the gates of the Indian embassy, killing 58 people, including senior Indian diplomat V. Venkateswara Rao and Brigadier Ravi Datt Mehta, while injuring over 150 people.

In 2007, two bombs were lobbed into the Indian consulate in Jalalabad but there were no casualty or damage.

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