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Blast kills 80 near diplomatic area in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — A huge suicide bomb ripped through a secure area of Kabul at the height of the Wednesday morning rush hour, killing at least 80 people and wounding more than 300, Afghan officials said.

The blast, which came a few days into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was one of the deadliest to hit the Afghan capital in recent years.

The bomb exploded in the diplomatic quarter near the German Embassy and the Afghan presidential palace. The streets were packed with commuters and the blast appears likely to result in a high civilian death toll.

The bomb, concealed in a water delivery truck, detonated at 8:22 a.m. local time outside the offices of a major local cellphone company and a popular TV station.

It hit about 400 yards from the German Embassy in one of the busiest parts of town, near big supermarkets and shops.

The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack in a statement. No group has yet claimed it.

Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Donati said the explosion happened close to Western embassies, government institutions and the residences of high-ranking officials and their families.

It’s the most fortified part of the city, which can only be reached by passing through several checkpoints, she added.

The BBC has confirmed that BBC Afghan driver Mohammed Nazir, who had worked with the broadcaster for four years and had a young family, died in the blast.

Four BBC journalists were also injured, but their injuries are not thought to be life threatening, according to a BBC World Service statement.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the attack was in the “immediate vicinity” of its embassy.

“The attack was aimed at civilians and those who are in Afghanistan to work with the people there for a better future of the country,” Gabriel said. “Officials of the German embassy were also injured. In the meantime, all employees are safe.”

The Afghan presidential palace and the Indian Embassy are also near the blast site.

“By God’s grace, Indian Embassy staff are safe in the massive Kabul blast,” India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted.

The French Embassy was damaged in the explosion, Marielle de Sarnez, French minister for European Affairs, told Europe 1 radio.

Initial reports do not indicate that French nationals are among the dead, she said, adding she is “extremely cautious” until that has been confirmed.

Separately, the U.S. Embassy said it did “not appear to have been the target of the blast,” a spokesman said.

Layma Tabibi, an Afghani-American who works at a local consulting firm, said she heard a loud rumble as she was getting ready for work, then saw the big plume of smoke.

A lot of the casualties appeared to be from the Roshan telecommunications company, she said.

“Afghans. It’s always Afghans,” she said, when asked who suffered in such attacks. “It’s always Afghans that are harmed and get killed rather than who the attacker wants to target.”

Many phone lines are down but people are trying to help, she added.

“The people are full of hope and love. It may not always seem like that but already there are hundreds of names and people waiting in lines and waiting to be put on a waiting list to donate blood and help anyone who is in need or stranded without help.”

Hameed Hakim, who works for a French nonprofit group, was on his way to work in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood when the blast stopped him in his tracks.

“I was standing not more than two kilometers away from where the explosion took place,” Hakim said. “It was so crazy. The sound was very strong and the ground shook. Everyone around me was shocked. All of the buildings and offices were broken, the windows were blown out.

“It was rush hour, most of the people were going to their offices or going to the shops. There were large crowds of people going about their days.”